Friday, 20 April 2018

Don't Pull the Communication Cord

July 1st 1907 and at 2pm the London and North West Railway's express from Liverpool stops at Tamworth after someone had pulled the communication cord. When the guard investigated he found it had been pulled by Mrs Higham, none other than the wife of the MP for Sowerby in Yorkshire. She claimed her son of 3.1/2 had fallen from the train. Quickly all stations and signalmen on the line between Tamworth and Stafford were alerted and all traffic stopped as the search began.

By 4:30pm news filtered through that the child had been found near Hademore Crossing and was being treated by a district nurse at the cottage of a Mrs Smith near Whittington Bridge. In Tamworth the stationmaster, a Mr Matthews, stopped the down train and accompanied Mrs Higham as she went to check on her son. They arrived at the same time as Dr Homan who reported the child to have been badly hurt but would live. He had been discovered by a platelayer ganger working on the line. Noticing movement at the side of the line he investigated and found the young boy. He had carried the child to the cottage after sending his colleague for the district nurse whom he had seen cycling past just moments earlier.

How the door came open on a train travelling at 60mph was never explained, although he was a large child for his age and perhaps he had done something to contribute to the accident. Indeed, his bulk will have helped protect him as an examination of the trackside revealed he had collided with and broken a number of large stones as he bounced along for some 40 yards before coming to rest alongside the line used by traffic in the opposite direction. Although conscious he had not attempted to move which was fortunate indeed as the down express had passed him two minutes after he came to rest here. The driver of the down train had seen the body of the child but surmised he must have hit the mother, hence stopping at Lichfield to raise the alert.

Later that evening Mr Higham MP arrived from London Euston. He made a statement in the House the following day, thanking all those who had had a hand in the rescue and informing them his son was "progressing nicely".

Perhaps the oddest part of this potentially tragic tale came in the form of the newspaper headline, for the Lichfield Mercury led with the odd choice of EXCITEMENT ON THE TRAIN LINE NEAR LICHFIELD.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Widowed in the Orchard (Twice!)

Thomas Frederick Young died on December 27th 1906 aged 44 years. A native of Lichfield, where his mother and siblings still lived, he had lived for a number of years at the Eagle Inn, Pitchcombe, near Stroud. On his marriage to the daughter of the former owner in 1895 he had taken over as landlord. moving to Gloucestershire.

With snow still lying on the Cotswold Hills, Thomas Young collected his double-barrelled shotgun and, as the clock struck one, told his wife not to hold dinner for him should he return home late. Next time she saw him was three hours later when she went out to feed the pigs. A glance in the direction of the adjacent orchard and she spotted her husband lying by the hedge. Returning to the pub she asked a Mr White, a military man with medical training, to investigate. He discovered the landlord lying face down in the orchard, on top of the shotgun which had been discharged at point-blank range into the owner's bowels. Clearly he had been dead for some time.

When the police arrived he traced the footsteps in the still-lying snow. These showed he had walked to a neighbour's property and back to the orchard, presumably looking for game, and something he would often do and share any rabbits with the neighbour for Thomas Young was known as the very best of marksmen. The inquest heard the evidence and came to the conclusion the man had placed the gun on the orchard side of the fence before climbing over. A wise precaution but a fatal one for as he grabbed the barrel of the gun and lifted it, twigs of the hedge caught on the trigger and fired the gun.

Back in Lichfield the news was met with dismay for Thomas Young and his family were well liked in the city. Many will have remembered the man who had worked as butler and gamekeeper for Mr. J. C. Little when in Lichfield a decade earlier. With his body interred in Gloucestershire, a memorial service was held in the place of his birth.

It was here that rumours began to circulate and questions asked. It seems the widow Young had been married before. Her first husband, also landlord of the Eagle Inn, had also meant an untimely end. Furthermore this had also been the result of a gunshot wound and also in the orchard adjacent to the inn. Any suggestion of foul play was dismissed as mere coincidence, but still many questioned how the wife had failed to hear the gun going off when his body was discovered just 75 yards from their home.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Tale of Misery

John and Sarah-Ann Langley lived in Tamworth Street, Lichfield in 1904 when hauled before the authorities charged with the neglect of five-year-old John Langley. The case attracted a lot of interest from the people of Lichfield. Although it may seem quite extraordinary today, the court was crowded, with large numbers gathered outside, from the moment the session opened at 11am until the judge ended proceedings at 11:45pm. It should be noted they did hold for both lunch and tea for a total of 75 minutes (how very cricket!)

John senior had had four children from a former marriage, the youngest Arthur Langley was six years old. His latest wife, Sarah-Ann, had several children by a former marriage, three of which were still under her care at this time. Back in July 1903 John Langley had visited a Dr Rowland and said nothing could be done to stop John junior's odd habits, including going into the streets picking up refuse and eating it.

As a result the child was admitted to the workhouse. Notes show he was a good weight and exhibited no odd behaviour nor was he seen as troublesome, although below average size for his age and academically inferior to his peers. He stayed at the workhouse until the end of August 1903, mainly because of an unexplained weakness to one arm, during which time he seemed fine and none saw any reason for concern following his release.

On December 22nd 1903 Dr Rowland was again called to the Langley's home. Since his last examination in July the child had certainly lost weight, he noted abrasions to the neck, small of the back, the left knee and bruising to the right thigh. Again taken to stay in the workhouse, young John Langley's condition could easily be explained by normal childhood bumps and knocks. Furthermore, although he had lost weight there was no evidence of him overeating, as would be expected if he had been starved. Yet it was noted that, while no sure diagnosis could be given, in general the child seemed unwell.

The father protested at the possible return of the boy to their care - he complaining young John could not be controlled, he frequently wandered out into the street, and regularly found to be feeding on offal or horse dung (commonplace sights in town streets at the time) - the child thus remained under the supervision of the workhouse and at this time magistrates began to take an interest despite the five-year-old's weight having increased from an appalling low of just 29 pounds.

A baker employed by Langley was called to give evidence and, finally the truth began to emerge. He spoke of how he would see the boy tethered by way of a muffler tied to the chain supporting the swing from 9am until midday. This he saw from September onwards, the child wearing inadequate clothing for the cold weather. He also spoke of the boy being tied up there by his sister almost as soon as the household had awakened.

At mealtimes he could be seen peering in through the window, one sister may pass him a crust on occasions but was more often to be seen eating our of the swill bucket or picking crumbs from the floor of the back yard. Another employee, one John Millington, had taken pity on the boy and passed him food, sending him to the bottom of the yard to eat in secret. The boy's father was witnessed knocking him across the yard on a number of occasions, apparently for no reason, further torture imparted by tethering his left arm to his left leg. Unlike the other children of the house he wore no cap, not a single button sewn on his jacket, he wore no muffler nor scarf, leaving his neck exposed to the elements.

Fearing repercussions he only spoke to the father concerning his paralysed arm, warning both him and his wife to take him to a doctor. Langley told him it was pointless, the paralysis the result of an illness when he was just two years of age. He pitied the child, saying he was heard to cry a number of times, unable to climb down from the swing without help. Since that time both Millington and another employee by the name of Statham had left the employment of the Langleys and reported them to the NSPCC. Statham, when questioned, also spoke of him seeing Langley plunging the boy into a could water trough in all weathers, again seemingly for no reason. These reports were further endorsed by a neighbour, he adding the boy had an awful cough, would be seen walking continually to keep warm, and known to eat anything within his reach. The NSPCC backed up these claims, saying their investigations had also revealed this atrocious behaviour.

Others disagreed, the defence arguing, rather predictably, this was a bad child, born of a consumptive mother who died shortly after his birth. He had been offered plenty of food but it was his choice to eat from the gutter. Furthermore another of his siblings had died young, a clear indication of mental problems suffered by the mother, she the former Mrs Langley.

The defence called a witness, another baker and friend of the Langleys who swore nothing could be further from the truth. The boy had eaten well, from his father's dinner plate no less, supplemented by a diet of eggs, boiled milk and port wine (strange diet for a five-year-old). He also said the child had been allowed to warm himself in the boiler house where a fire burned constantly - this confirming the child was kept outdoors during the day. This witness accused the witnesses for the prosecution of having an axe to grind with the Langleys and in particular the new Mrs Langley. Even his eldest half-sister came forward to give evidence, saying he was treated no differently from the rest and his mental problems were her brother's own fault.

Quickly a verdict was reached. Cheers both inside and outside the court rang out as midnight approached and the Langleys were found guilty. This quickly turned to anger as the crowd threatened to riot, windows of the nearby bakery broken, as they heard the sentence. Given two weeks to pay, the Langleys were fined £25 each - a large sum in 1904 but surely inappropriate for such crimes. Even worse, when explaining the leniency of the sentence the court spoke of how a custodial sentence would have deprived the many other children of both parents.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Easter Lagomorphs

Seven years ago I posted something on hares. I recreate same here, suitably amended.

While the rabbit is today considered to be lucky (as in the foot), historically the hare is anything but. Indeed so much superstition and folklore surrounds the poor creature I decided to dig a little and found the following:

As Easter is upon us, along with its association with the rabbit (ie Easter Bunnies), it came as something of a surprise to find Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands preferring an Easter Hare.

The Anglo-Saxon personification of the sun was Ostara, whose ears were those of a hare and who carried eggs on her back. This is how eggs have become associated with Easter.

Pagan followers associate the hare with the goddess Eostre, from where we get the name for Easter.

Gods in other cultures associated with hares are Hittavainen, Cupid, Aphrodite, Venus, Holda, Freyja, Andraste, Cerridwen, Kaltes,

That the creature has been considered sacred and associated with spring, and almost certainly has been since prehistoric times, is down to the hare only really being seen when they are seen boxing in the mating season. Incidentally, the long held belief these are males fighting over a female was shown to be wrong when it was realised at least one of the combatants could just as easily be female.

Several ancient cultures saw the hare the symbol of fertility, of rebirth, and held to possess supernatural powers. The genitals of the jack were carried to ward off infertility. This fertility idea has some truth for the doe can produce up to forty-two young in a single year.

Some ancient African cultures believed the hare to have a lunar origin.

The tales of Brer Rabbit, as told by Uncle Remus, were brought to North America via the slave trade and are adapted from traditional African narratives. Thus these cannot be about a 'rabbit' but a hare for Africa has no rabbits around the tropical latitudes.

In Egyptian mythology Osiris is also known by other names and is then depicted with the head of a hare, as was the goddess Unut. He is also cited as being the messenger of the god Thoth.

Pliny wrote of how he believed the hare was androgynous, likened to the waxing and waning of the Moon when it was deemed to be masculine and feminine respectively.

The hare is also associated with the Moon in ancient China, held to possess knowledge of the elixir of immortality. Other writings show the hare with the phoenix and the unicorn, ubiquitous mythological creatures of wonder and magical powers.

Hindus in India tell the story of Buddha, whose earliest life on Earth was as a hare. Hence the animal is seen as a symbol of resurrection. It is also the subject of a number of traditional tales where it represents wisdom.

Native American cultures speak of Michabo or Manitou, the Great Hare, which is common to the ancestral mythologies of many tribes. Unlike the Old World, in the New World the hare is associated with the sun.

The madness of hares was likened to a coven of witches. Some held the hares were witches who had changed their appearance to allow them to suckle cows until they were dry.

Sailors, probably the most superstitious career which ever has been or ever will be, consider the hare unlucky and would not allow any mention of them while at sea.

Pregnant women would carrying a hare's foot, for should the animal cross her path it could result in a miscarriage or the child being born with a hare-lip.

The hare's foot charm was also held to be the answer to rheumatism, while the stage perfomance of many a thespian was solely down to such being hidden beneath their costume.

The fat from a hare would be used to fuel a lamp burned when it was important that all present should be in good spirits throughout.

The brain of the hare was added to wine to prevent any danger of oversleeping.

Cambridgeshire folk seeing a hare running through the streets saw this as a sign that a fire was about to break out.

Cornish girls who died of a broken heart after being spurned by their lover would turn into a white hare and pursue him from beyond the grave.

Personally I just wish I could taste this recipe for jugged hare.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

A Bloody Tale

February 1902 and PC Williams is following his regular route around the streets of Lichfield, coming along Lombard Street at 10:40pm. It was here he saw a woman running towards him and crying out "Oh my lad, what have I done?" Being a good officer he took hold of her and took her back to investigate further. On entering the house, he discovered her husband, Frank, on the sofa in the kitchen. Blood was everywhere. Maud Shipley was arrested.

The first inquest had to be adjourned as the main witness, the victim, had been too ill to come to court. Indeed, the following week he appeared heavily swathed in bandages and looking most frail. It was then the story began to unfold. Frank Shipley had been employed by Mr Summerfield, a coal deal, as a waggoner. Leaving work he had called in to the Mitre Inn for a well-earned pint on his way home.

Arriving at his home in Lombard Street he discovered his wife to be most agitated, in an aggressive and excitable state, clearly the worse for drink and demanding money. Frank refused and turned on his heel, going out to get a shave. When he emerged from the barber's shop he was met by his wife who, once again, was demanding money and this continued as she followed him home. No sooner had he reached home than Frank went back out, this time to the Mitre Inn to fill a bottle with beer so he could drink it with his supper.

At this point the inquest heard from her sister who had spent some of the earlier part of that day with her. Indeed had seen her on a number of occassions, each time she had been complaining of a lack of money. Both she and two other women had shared their beer with Maud, eventually brining her home from the Grapes Inn where she was described as being "Half and half with the drink".

Another witness came to the stand and spoke of Maud banging on the door screaming "I will finish the bastard before the night's out". He followed her into her house to witness her picking up a knife and stabbing Frank three or four times in quick succession. She passed him by as she ran into the street, while he went to see how he could help the man who was bleeding profusely. He described Maud as being "Three sheets".

A second passer-by then entered and went back out to summon medical assistance. When the doctor gave evidence he described the scene as looking like a slaughterhouse. Mr Shipley having several wounds about the head, including a severed ear lobe, a two-inch gash across his face, and a wound to the neck.

When the case came to court the accused claimed she had acted in self-defence, that the very knife brought as evidence had been thrown at her by Frank at least twice. There was no evidence to support this claim and Maud Shipley, aged 28, was found to be guilty of the assault on her husband and sentenced to three months hard labour. This left Frank, himself still far from well, to look after their three children - the eldest five years and the youngest just two.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Mail Train

Postman William Windridge lived in Dean's Croft, Lichfield with his uncle. On the last day of 1894 he had not been to work due to illness but the next morning had left home at 4:50am, telling his uncle he was going for a walk.

At 10:30am that morning his Uncle William learned how a postman had been killed on the line and, not having seen his nephew for some hours, went along to see find his worst fears realised. Identified by the tobacco pouch he had seen him fill that very morning, for the mutilated remains were hardly recognisable. His skull shattered leaving the contents scattered along the line, one leg severed and missing. His remaining shoe, hat and marks on the body had also confirmed that New Years Day 1895 was the last for 27-year-old Postman Windridge.

At the subsequent inquest further details were revealed. While it had been his job to bring the mail bags to Lichfield Trent Valley Station, he had been suspended some six weeks earlier after the station master found him walking unsteadily and deemed him to have been at risk. While his uncle maintained this was due to illness, the landlord of the Blue Bell Inn, one John Oakley, stated he had been drinking heavily at his establishment the previous day. Indeed he had walked him home that day as he had been the worse for drink and had even been forced to wrestle him into bed and force him to stay there to sleep.

A thorough search did not reveal any blood an any of the engines to have passed through the station that morning. Nor did they ever find the missing limb anywhere near where the impact occurred, at the level crossing here used solely by the farm and not by the public in general.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death but strongly suspected this may well have been suicide.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Train Accident

On Saturday 3rd January 1885, 62 year-old blacksmith Francis Clay left home at 6:30am as he did most days. As a blacksmith he would tour the local farms to perform required tasks on site. He travelled on foot, always using a stick, and carried his tools with him to earn the money to support his wife, Emma, and their seven children - aged 17 right down to the youngest babe in arms. The next they heard was an hour later when a knock at the door told them Francis Clay was dead.

Hademore Crossing has only been provided with a bridge to cross the tracks in the 21st century, prior to that a level crossing sufficed for more than a century. At about 7am that morning the two signalmen, having manually set the gates to allow the train to pass, were conversing as the 6:20 from Stafford to Rugby passed them at about 45mph. As it did so they heard a thump and went to investigate and soon after a policeman was summoned.

At the inquest the three men revealed the gruesome evidence they uncovered that morning. The bloodied post at one side of the gate led them to the discovery of a body. The flesh had been removed from one hand, clothing thrown up and over the head. When they removed the blood-soaked clothing to identify the individual the discovered part of the face and head missing, with blood and brains smothered all over the top of the post. The remainder of the head was found on the other side of the gate lying on the road. Suspecting the identity of the man they continued to search along the line and, 60 yards away, they found the toolbox which confirmed his identity.

By the time of the inquest his wife had removed much of the evidence from the post at the side of the track. It seems Francis had attempted to cross after the gates were closed. This was not unusual, the signalman would often allow foot passengers across when the train was not in sight. On this morning they had not seen him, although there was plenty of light despite the early hour.

A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded.