REPORTS FROM THE COURTS
following reports are not from the courts of today, but from Pontefract
about 130 years ago although all the cases mentioned here originate in
Featherstone. I am indebted to Mr. Irvin Saxton for permission to quote
from his excellent series of publications ‘The Featherstone Chronicles’.
Featherstone, by which I mean ‘Old’ or ‘North’ Featherstone, and Purston, up
until 1868 when John Shaw sank Featherstone Main Colliery, were
agricultural communities with a combined population in 1861 of just 616.
By 1881 this had risen to 3953, the vast majority being miners and their
families living in the area around Station Lane, called ‘South’ or
‘New’ Featherstone, and originating from Durham; Staffordshire;
Wales; Lancashire, in fact almost anywhere but Featherstone!
This influx of people, and the new mining industry, brought to the
Magistrates Courts a new set of problems to deal with. Many of these are
no longer seen today in the reports in the Pontefract and Castleford
Express, although there are some familiar cases such as drunkenness,
violence and theft, but with very different sentences than those we now
read about. There was no ‘Community Sentences’ then!
A note for those too young to remember ‘real’ money. There were 20
shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling and to put money
matters into perspective, in 1883/5 Bradley paid his groom £1 a week
while a colliery enginewright earned £1-7s and a miner about £1-13s a
week, depending upon his productivity.
And now to the actual cases:
In 1873, Francis Robinson, a music teacher, was bound over and given a
severe caution for threatening to kill his wife (it was a severe caution mind).
Thomas Jackson, in February of 1874, was sent to prison for a month as a rouge
and a vagabond after being found by a policeman sleeping in an outhouse!
There were at this time many offences that today may seem to us bizarre and
here is such a case:
Two miners, summonsed for leaving their employ at Featherstone Main Colliery
without giving proper notice and having been ordered by the Magistrates
to return to work, (fancy being ordered to return to work by the
Courts!) then summonsed the manager, Earnest Andrew, for failing to
find them sufficient work in the mine.
The defence argued that no work was available due to there being no empty
wagons to be filled and the bench, after much deliberation, dismissed
the case, viewed as a test case by the coal owners, (I’ll bet it was!)
In September that same year, Thomas Galway was charged by the same Earnest
Andrew with having a pipe whilst down the pit. The bench was told that
such practices were exceedingly dangerous with the risk of causing an
explosion and to make an example of him the bench sent Galway to prison,
with hard labour, for a month.
It clearly did not have the desired effect for a year later Robert John
Turner was fined twenty shillings and costs for a very similar offence,
a considerable discrepancy in sentencing. Although I believe that such
offences could be charged either under Colliery Rules or under the Mines
and Quarries Act, only the latter was imprisonable.
Also sentenced to hard labour, this time for fourteen days, was Ann Irving
who stole six-and-a-half pounds of beef, which she concealed in her
shawl, from John Wood’s shop in Station Lane. Despite having four
children and crying for mercy the Magistrates were unmoved.
A case against three men, charged with racing on a public road in an
indecent state was dismissed when the bench heard that they were wearing
running drawers. The men promised not to do it again!(I wonder what the Magistrates would make of the current state of dress, or
undress, we see nowadays).
‘Tossing schools" were a popular, although illegal, form of gambling amongst
the miners and in May of 1875 five men were charged with gambling on the
highway by ‘tossing’ halfpennies and betting on the result,
something I remember seeing during my childhood in Tanshelf. Each was
Robert Marshall and his wife Jane had a travelling hardware van and shooting
gallery, a strange combination one might think! One Sunday in July of
1875, during an attempted burglary, she fired a pistol at the thief, one
William Cox, and when he was arrested she told the police that the gun
had only a cap and no powder or she would have shot him! Cox got one
month in prison. Any offers on what would have happened today, and who
would have ended up in jail?
Having been arrested in West Bromwich, Edward Martin was before the Pontefract
bench in June 1884 charged with having deserted his wife, who had
subsequently been paid £10-9s Parish Relief. Despite claiming he had
gone to West Bromwich for the sake of his health (to West Bromwich?)
he was sent to prison for one month with hard labour.
The Magistrates of yore seemed to have had strange powers; they dismissed
a case against John Button and the landlord of the Bradley Arms, James
Fozzard, for drinking after hours on condition that they paid the costs!
Did they make it up as they went along?
And finally, to bring us right up to date; George Buckley was fined five
shillings for failing to send his child to school for the last three
months. This was in May of 1886; the more things change the more they
remain the same!
Also by Eric Jackson:
The Barnbow Lasses
Pontefract Sessions House
A Pontefract Battalion