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By Glynn G. Burrows -
It is amazing what things turn up in the most unexpected places. I was looking through a local newspaper the other week, hoping to find some information on a family I was researching and, although I did find what I was looking for, some other pieces of information on the same page proved very interesting.
John Ellis Brown, 23, a Blacksmith, pleaded guilty of stealing two fowls, value 3/-
John Howlett was indicted for the manslaughter of Nathan Kemp at Swaffham on the 1st of July. On the night in question, which was a fine, moonlit night, the prisoner, accompanied by his brother and a woman named Lavender, was driving from Swaffham to Cley. It seems, from the article that Mr Howlett was supposed to have been driving furiously and on the wrong side of the road, coming into collision with the cart of the deceased. Mr Kemp was thrown out of his cart and sustained a fracture of the skull. Kemp's cart was found laying three feet from the bank on the right side of the road. The road was 17 1/2 feet wide. Howlett's cart was very close to the bank on the right side of the road and Kemp was found laying on the bank. It was stated that the prisoner and his brother had called out to Kemp, when he was approaching to get out of the way, other witnesses said that Kemp was driving furiously and had been drinking at a public house in the neighbourhood. The prisoner was found not guilty and discharged.
Sarah Howell was found guilty of stealing £54 from under the bed of her sick sister
at Great Yarmouth, was sentenced to six months hard labour. It all seems a little
unfair when John Ellis Brown got fifteen months for stealing two chickens worth 3/-
The reason that I was looking at the newspaper of 1882 was that my own family had been involved in a criminal case that year in King’s Lynn and I was searching for more information.
The family in question were the Bailey family from the fishing quarter of King’s Lynn, a rough part of town, mostly consisting of filthy, cramped, overcrowded houses, divided into what could be called “accommodation” but ought to be called an abomination. Most families in this part of King’s Lynn were living in houses and rooms around a courtyard approached through an archway in the main street. The main frontage to the street was often a shop or pub and the back of the property was built up to make the most of the space there. Several houses shared washing and toilet facilities and the water supply was often polluted by sewage, animal waste and other detritus. In those conditions, put large families with little money and no opportunity for escape, and you have a perfect breeding ground for crime and unrest.
In May 1882, my great, great grandmother was sitting on a step on North Street, pregnant
with an illegitimate child and listening to some children who lived in the same yard,
enjoying themselves at a table set up between the houses. My great great grandmother
had younger siblings and they wanted to join in the frolics but the other children
wouldn’t let them. A disagreement arose and among other things, chamber-
Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England -
Later on, the elder brother of my ancestors’ neighbours arrived home and, upon hearing the story, went to his neighbours and remonstrated. A fight ensued, involving most of my relations living there, and the young man went home badly beaten. Over the next few days he deteriorated and passed away, a post mortem showing he died from being beaten about the head by various objects, (including a baby’s shoe!).
Four members of the family were prosecuted and sent to Norwich Castle Prison (pictured), the three women; (my great great grandmother, her sister and their mother) getting nine months hard labour and the man; my great great great grandfather, twelve months. (A younger sibling of my great great grandmother was let off as she was only 13 at the time!) The baby was born while my great great grandmother was in Norwich Castle and this shows as his birthplace on his birth certificate.
So what were prisons like in the earlier years on the C19th? A very sketchy description for you is enclosed below, but I will be publishing a book very soon relating to the history of Swaffham Prison in Norfolk if you are interested in the conditions of prisons for our badly behaved ancestors.
THOSE who work have two pounds and a half of household Bread per day, and half a pound of Cheese per week; and also those committed for six Months are allowed to purchase pint of Milk, and all are given hot Water and Salt; and when of a costive habit, Greens and other Vegetables. Those who do not work are allowed two pounds of household Bread, and half a pound of Cheese, with the like Allowance of Milk and hot Water, Salt and Vegetables.
ALLOWANCE of Clothing, Jacket, Waistcoat, Breeches, Shirts, Handkerchiefs, Stockings, Shoes, and Cap; Allowance of Bedding, Rush Bed, Rug and two Blankets; in the Winter an extra Blanket. Cost per head cannot be stated, as the same things are used for many Prisoners.
ALL Prisoners are employed at the Tread Wheel who are committed for Hard Labour, except at chance times, when they are employed in their various Trades; viz. Carpenters, bricklayers, Cordwainers, Tailors, &c. etc.
Hours of Labour and of Exercise — Nine Hours per day in Summer, out of which time the resting off the Wheel is about a third of the time; in Winter, worked according to Daylight. Prisoners not at Work are excercised from Six o'clock to Eight o'clock in the Morning, and from Four o'clock till Six o'clock in the Afternoon: half an hour at each time.