Monday, 4 February 2013

The death of James Walmsley, 1839

James Walmsley, 68, died a few days after being involved in a fight between workmates at a pub in Leekfrith, part of an all-day binge following a walk-out from the dyehouse where they worked. Local man George Allen was found guilty of his manslaughter at the subsequent inquest and was committed for trial at the Staffordshire Summer Assizes. The Prosecution Brief and police witness statements are part of our collection documenting nineteenth-century crimes in the Three Shires.

Here’s the start of the Prosecution Brief. (We’ve kept the original spellings and (lack of) punctuation – note how the spelling of ‘Walmsley’ varies, as it does through the whole document – just to make things more difficult for the weary genealogist!)  


The Queen on the prosecution of William Alcock Constable of Leek
George Allen
For manslaughter

 Brief for the prosecution


The prisoner a youth about 17 years of age is the son of John Allen a labourer residing in the Town of Leek, he stands charged with killing and slaying one James Wamsley at the parish of Cheddleton in this county on Wednesday the 20th of March last.

The prisoner and deceased (who was an old man about 68 years of age) were both employed at the Silk Dye Houses of Messers Wardle & Milner of Leek Brook situate about 1/2 mile from the Town Leek but in the parish of Cheddleton.

The prisoner lodged with his parents in the Town of Leek

The deceased who was a widower resided with 2 of his Daughters in a small dwellinghouse near to the Dyehouses.

On the day in question all the work people of Messers Wardle & Milner about 30 in number refused to work or as it is technically termed “turned out” in consequence of Messers Wardle & Milner having discharged a Bookkeeper named Tomkinson!!

The men turned out about 1/2 past 8 o’clock in the morning and went in procession to Cheddleton, Basford Bridge and other places  & in the afternoon returned to a Beer House near the Dyehouses [run ] by one Joseph Moss.

They were drinking all day and in the Evening were all Drunk.

The prisoner joined one of the Party in the procession to Cheddleton but the deceased went in a contrary direction to Leek and there got much in liquor and returned to the other men at Moss’ Beer House in the Evening

There are two rooms in the Beer House on the ground floor one called the House place, the other the Parlour, outside doors open into each of those rooms.

Between 7 & 8 o’clock that night the prisoner, William Olarenshaw, Ann Smith, John Langan, Joseph Wardle & several other persons were in the parlour of the beerhouse, it appears that the prisoner who was then drunk got up & began to push & jostle against two other persons in the room first against one & then against the other, in consequence thereof the prisoner & Olarenshaw had words & began to fight, about this time the deceased came into the Parlour at the outer door, some of the witnesses say he was sitting in the room near the door when the fighting began others say he came into the House just  at the time they were fighting at all events he interfered between the parties and got killed in the affray. Ann Smith says that the moment Wamlsley entered the Room he said that neither Olarenshaw or his mistress (meaning Ann Smith) should be put upon he would take their part, and immediately squared right off at the prisoner, she says she saw them both down together that when deceased was down he sighed & groaned and that when he got up he put his hands one upon another  and then pat them against his left side just upon the hip and said “I am killed”. Turner another witness says he saw the prisoner strike the deceased. The deceased after he was hurt left the Beer House & went towards his own House which is not 100 yards distant and was met on the way by his Daughter H. Maydew he said to her “they have killed me” she asked who had done it and he said that George Allen had struck him and threatened to pay him “for old and new and all ” together.

The deceased was very ill after the occurrence Mr Walters a surgeon was called in between 8 and 9 o’clock on Thursday night he found the deceased sitting in Bed with great difficulty in breathing he complained of being hurt in the left side he would not allow Mr Walters to examine it minutely as it was so painful, the deceased had a plaster on it, Mr Walters immediately bled deceased and treated him for a violent inflammation in the lungs and sent him such medicine as he thought proper for the case. Mr Walters saw him every day afterwards until he died, deceased never would allow anyone to examine the injured part it was so painful and sore, the deceased died on the 26th of March. Mr Walters made a post mortem examination of deceaseds Body and observed a slight discolouration in the chest on the left side externally, on the side of the Ribs. On opening the Chest he discovered 5 ribs to be broken the fracture was a recent one, one of the Ribs had entered the Lungs the effect was great imflamation of the Lungs and adhesion of them to the side of the Chest, there was effusion of water about 16oz in the cavity of the chest a mixture of water and lymph, the injuries were quite sufficient to cause death, in Mr Walter’s opinion the injury must have been done either by a blow or a fall and not by falling against the floor, it must have been either a blow or by a fall against a chair or some protruding substance and not on a flat or even surface.

An Inquest was held touching the death of the deceased at the House of Mr Wardle at Leek Brook on the 29 March when the Jury unanimously returned a verdict of Manslaughter against the Prisoner

The Prisoner has employed an Attorney and will no doubt bring the Beerhouse Keeper his wife and other witnesses to give evidence on his behalf, the Beerhouse Keeper and his wife were however examined on the Inquest but the Jury were of opinion such evidence was false, no doubt the Evidence on the Trial will be conflicting but there appears little doubt the prisoner struck the deceased and perhaps kicked him when down or that the deceased fell against a Chair so as to cause the Fracture of his Ribs


There then follows witness statements, with telling handwritten notes made by the prosecution lawyer in the margin. Joseph Moss, he writes, will ‘give his Evidence as favourably as possible for the prisoner he being the son of his landlord’.  Arthur Turner is described as ‘a very Stupid Boy and will probably give his evidence in a very unsatisfactory manner’; Ann Smith was ‘formerly a Common prostitute but is now kept by Olarenshaw’; and George Dale is ‘a Boy of good Character and will most likely prove the Conversation with prisoner very satisfactorily’. That conversation was when George told Dale he had given ‘the old Bugger a good punch under the Short Ribs’.  This would seem pretty conclusive, and, despite the favourable slant on George’s involvement given by Joseph and Ellen Moss and his other workmates – as predicted in the Brief – the Assizes jury found George guilty. He seems not to have spent time in prison, though (his sentence was ‘imprisonment until the rising of the court’), having been in Stafford jail waiting for his trial.

The name ‘George Allen’, referring to a man of the same age as our George, also from Leek, crops up in the Assizes records on six later occasions, for offences including larceny, house-breaking and malicious wounding. So it seems he may not have changed his ways after the sad events of March 1839.

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