Elizabeth Longstaff – A Career Criminal


As the Northumberland Summer Assizes assembled on the 18th July 1887 Elizabeth “Longstaff” stood trial charged with the larceny of two bed sheets worth three shillings. The bed sheets had been relieved from an Amble lodging house belonging to Obadiah Self; a coal miner with three daughters and a son. Obadiah testified to the assembled court that, on the afternoon of the 9th July 1887, he had made-up the lodging house’s ten beds. At 10:30pm, when he went to check on the beds, he found two sheets missing.


Case of Elizabeth Longstaff for the Prosecution


An Elizabeth “Longstaff” had been lodging at the house and her disappearance on the evening of the crime made her the most likely perpetrator. Having absconded from the scene she tried to rid herself of the evidence. She met Margaret Gilmore from Broomhill and told her that she “was hard up and … would sell the sheets for the price of a stone of flour and a bit of yeast.” Margaret then unknowingly bought the stolen sheets for one shilling and a loaf of bread. Obadiah had immediately reported the incident to the local Police Sergeant and, as Elizabeth returned from her dealings on the Radcliffe to Amble railway, Lewis Scaife, the local Police Sergeant, was able to identify and apprehend the suspect. Elizabeth immediately admitted her guilt to the Sergeant.

Elizabeth was further incriminated during the trial by the prosecution’s key witness Frank Mack; an Amble-based hawker of no fixed aboded. He had also lodged in the house that fateful night and told the court how he had innocently helped Elizabeth gain entry to the bedroom as she could not open the heavy door. She was eventually found guilty by the presiding Bench and the case made headline news in the Morpeth Herald as an example of “bad character.”

Elizabeth’s 1887 court appearance appears to be the first, and only, time the Dickson, Archer and Thorp firm were involved in the prosecution of a Mrs “Longstaff.” However, Mr Archer believed her crimes extended far beyond the parish of Warkworth. To prove his hunch Mr Archer sent various letters to contacts across the Durham county. A picture of Elizabeth soon emerged of a colourful character whom had carved herself a career in crime. Her previous convictions included indecent exposure, drunk and disorderly behaviour, the theft of money and food, passing of counterfeit corn, use of counterfeit coins and larceny of clothing. This extensive criminal record can be traced from 1887 to 1900 using newspaper articles, criminal registers and original documents produced for the aforementioned court case of 1887.


Witness statements in the 1887 case of Elizabeth Longstaff


Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth was born in 1857 as Elizabeth Johnson. She hailed from Sunderland in County Durham, and married Miles Longmires in 1876. Their marriage was a turbulent one; which Elizabeth yearned to escape.

On the 10th January 1879 reports were published in the Durham County Advertiser regarding a domestic assault which had occurred between the couple in the October of 1878. Miles Longmires, described as being a potato hawker, had assaulted his wife Elizabeth by delivering a strong blow to the back of her head. Elizabeth had pressed for charges immediately following the incident, but she subsequently dropped them. Whilst being questioned as to why she had dropped the accusations against her husband she changed her version of events to divert the blame. She claimed she was struck by someone in the dark passageway of their lodgings, and had blamed her husband. She then claimed she had been mistaken and, having been informed by her more knowledgeable “neighbours,” the assailant had actually been another resident at the Coxon Lodging house called John Jones. We will never know why Elizabeth changed her story but, having escaped to her mother’s home for a short time, she returned to her husband and in 1879 gave birth to the couple’s only child John William.

But the birth of their child did not lesson Miles’ temper, and his domestic abuse of Elizabeth continued. By the November of 1879 this behaviour had pushed Elizabeth to take drastic measures, and led to her first brush with the law.

A Poisoned Beer

John Lewis was a business acquaintance of Miles Longmires and known throughout the county as “Partridge Jack.” On the 5th November 1879 the elderly man had went to the Longmires’ household to conduct business, whilst there John gave Elizabeth one shilling to procure him something to eat. Upon her return all Elizabeth had purchased was beer, to which she added a brown powder claimed to be allspice. The concoction made John ill, and Elizabeth told the old man to lie down. John obliged and, as he was emptying his pockets, Elizabeth grabbed one of his satchels of money and “bolted out of the house, locking him in.”

Whilst John attempted to escape through a window, Elizabeth had retreated with her infant son to a neighbour’s home and told them that she had “cleaned Miley out.” This comment was a clear reference to having gained revenge over her abusive husband by ruining his business deal and escaping. She took the money, burned the satchel and fled with her son. However, she was soon caught a few days later at Spennymoor by PC Houlds. The policeman testified in court that, when found, she admitted to having spent the money on new clothes for herself and her child. John told the police that he had been carrying at least £10 but, when apprehended, Elizabeth claimed it had only been £3.

On the advice of her solicitor Elizabeth took responsibility for her actions and pleaded guilty when she then appeared in the dock with “an infant in her arms.” The infancy of her child and her honesty, which was to become a pattern in her court appearances, did not gain her mercy from the Bench. Instead, “the Bench considered this a very bad case, and the prisoner was therefore ordered to undergo the heaviest penalty in the power of the magistrates, six months hard labour.”

A Time Line of Crime

Elizabeth served her sentence but in the October of 1880, less than five months after her release, she was imprisoned again for “obtaining goods by means of false pretences after a previous conviction.” Perhaps Elizabeth actively sought to be imprisoned in an attempt to escape her turbulent home-life? However, as her criminal spree continued long after her husband died a premature death in 1882, it was more likely influenced by her economical situation.

In the 1881 census Elizabeth was residing in Durham Prison, here she is listed as being a “fish hawker” beyond the prison walls. Those who worked as hawkers were often loud and charismatic people; able to barter and manipulate a situation to gain a sale. Victorian hawkers often walked a thin line between legal trade and loopholes. Some operated with licences, but many sold a mix of legal and black-market items in an ad-hoc way. It was an unstable lifestyle, which didn’t always guarantee money, and often became a gateway to crime. Thus her tendency to steal items which she could easily pass on for a profit, such as clothing and material, may have been rooted in her “occupation.”

Following her 1880/81 stint in Durham gaol Elizabeth moved to Northumberland and developed her criminal repertoire. It was around this time that Elizabeth also began to use a collection of aliases whilst committing her crimes. This made it harder for her prosecutors to prove previous criminality – as Mr Archer experienced first-hand. These aliases included her married name of Longmires, her maiden name Johnson and two invented names of Longstaff/staffe and Clayton.


Letter confirming aliases


In January 1886 she was convicted at Northumberland’s Epiphany Sessions, held at the Moot Hall in Newcastle, for the use of counterfeit coins. She received a prison sentence lasting 12 calendar months, along with a three year police supervision order. It was following her release from this particular crime that Elizabeth stole Obadiah Self’s bed-sheets, for which she received two months hard labour.

The following year Elizabeth was free once more and returned to Durham, where she proceeded to commit two separate crimes of “simple larceny.” The first occurred in June, and she received a second police supervision order. However, by the October she had stolen another bedsheet (this time from an Edward Toole.) For this crime, and because she had broken the rules of her previous supervision order, she was sentenced to six months hard labour.

In September 1889 she returned to prison again for “14 days” having failed to report herself to her Police Supervisors in Auckland whilst on a “ticket of leave.” Then, in the December of 1889 at the age of 33, she returned to prison for five years having stolen:

“a piece of ham, a shoulder of mutton, a quantity of flour, six yards of black velvet, one hat, one pair of cotton sheets, one black skirt and two pairs of stockings, value £1 4s, the property of Margaret Crawford at Jarrow.”

Her lengthy jail time gained her some sympathy when she offended once again in 1894 for stealing a quantity of clothes belonging to William Liddell at Cowpen. During this trial it was noted that;

“The Bench were sorry to find she had spent most part of her life in prison, the last sentence she had undergone being five years’ penal servitude. She was even now out on ticket-of-leave. She would have three more years’ penal servitude after she had completed the unexpired one on which she was now out.”

Escape to Yorkshire

By the close of the century Elizabeth had spent extensive periods in a series of northern prisons. In 1899 she was charged once again, this time in Blyth’s Police Court, for failing to report a change of address whilst on another ticket-of-leave. It is assumed her new address was somewhere in Yorkshire as, later that year, she spent fourteen days in HMP Wakefield for the crime of “begging.” The admittance register for Wakefield HMP describes Elizabeth’s physical features as standing at just over four foot tall with grey hair. The register also notes that she was illiterate. Elizabeth was now 42 years old with twelve previous convictions.

Elizabeth’s story is difficult to trace from this point forward; she may have died or changed her name again. Her son, John William, seems to have grown up away from Elizabeth. Tracing him is also difficult; but there was a John William Longmires born in the county of Durham and working as a barber in the Alnwick workhouse in 1901.

Elizabeth’s adult life had been spent mostly incarcerated, and her petty crimes had kept the county’s magistrates busy. A mix of Elizabeth’s marital, economic and social situation forced her hand to crime. Her first serious crime against “Partridge Jack” seems to have been an attempt to escape a violent life. It is easy to fall for the Victorian rhetoric and see Elizabeth as an enterprising criminal but it was more likely that she was a victim of her time, sadly restricted by her social context.


Unlucky 13th for Bus Crew from Wooler

The 20th March 1969 ‘The Berwick Advertiser’ ran the following story:-

Today was the day RAF Acklington was to send helicopters up the Ingram Valley and small hamlets along Coquetdale to drop fodder to the starving sheep. Plans had been made to drop fodder to High and Low Blakehope Farm in the Cheviots, but these were cancelled due to low cloud and snow showers.

Mr Harry Rutherford of High Blakehope and Mr R. T. Elliot of Kalemouth, Kelso who have some 1300 sheep on the two farms, had arranged for the helicopter to carry hay that had been brought in by road from Kelso to Hartside, but due to the weather the drop was shelved. Both farmers yesterday confirmed that the position was ‘Grim’ it could be desperate if today’s drop is binned as the sheep only have fodder for another day. A blizzard on Friday blocked roads, cut off electricity, closed schools and kept the North Northumberland fishing fleet in port.

The Primary schools at Milfield and Branton were closed because of the snow and lack of power. Pupils could get in, but there were no facilities to provide a hot midday meal. Only 13 of the 23 pupils made it in to Glanton School as the snow as 5 inches deep in the village. The 300 pupils at Glendale School also had the day off to play in the snow due to the conditions.

The weather affected the bus services on both sides of the border, a spokesman for United Automobile Service Ltd said that the Wooler – Newcastle bus route was blocked by snow at Longframlington Moor and buses could only get as far as Whittingham. A bus driver, conductor and passenger had to walk 2 miles to Coldingham village on Thursday night as the Berwick to Edinburgh bus got stuck in snow. Mountainous seas battered to coast and the seas at Eyemouth were said to be the worst in living history. At Berwick the water broke high over the pier and the lighthouse and this was the same story further down the coast at Seahouses.

Coastguards and Police were asked to keep a look out for 220 cases of gunpowder jettisoned in the sea 10 miles east of Longstone by the Dutch Coaster ‘Harry’. The crew dumped the cases when the deck cargo began to shift. It was the high winds which did most of the damage for; although it snowed on Thursday morning and again on Friday the majority of it turned to slush, but with the easterly gale came the drifts. In many parts of North Northumberland the drifts were 10 to 12 feet deep. The snowploughs and blowers were out for more than 24 hours, with men working shifts to keep the roads open.

The electricity cuts suffered by many were caused by clinging wet snow to the conductors. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday strong winds from the south east and with heavy showers of snow and sleet meant the temperature barely rose above freezing. On Tuesday as the region began to shake itself free of the weekend conditions blizzards swept in from the east and by lunchtime the workmen from Berwickshire and Northumberland County Council were once again working in a full scale battle against the snow. Swept in by the wind in clouds so thick visibility was only 10-15 yards in places and the snow piled up on the roadsides. Around Alnwick the snowfall was the heaviest of the entire winter.

A Greek cargo ship fell into difficulties off Longstone Lighthouse on Sunday and the crew had to be lifted to safety by a Danish Air Force helicopter. The 13 men and one woman from the ‘Kadiani’ were landed at RAF Leuchars. She was bound from Aalborg to Benghazi with a cargo of cement. She battled against the gale force winds in the North Sea for 3 days before the Captain radioed for help. At one time the English tug ‘Yorkshireman’ attempted to take the stricken ship under tow, but the tow rope broke.

Within the Berwick Advertiser story there was mention of John Russell. He was also mentioned in the Northumberland Gazette published 21st March 1969. With the headline “Unlucky 13th for Bus Crew from Wooler.” John Russell, was my grandad and 49 years today he was involved in the storm. He was the driver of the Wooler bus which was stranded in deep snow on the Wooler to Newcastle road. It was the first time in 25 years’ service, that United Bus Company driver John Russell of Oliver Road, Wooler, had been forced to sleep in a bus an experience also shared by his conductress Miss Esther Speirs of Milfield.

“It was without doubt the coldest and most uncomfortable sleep I’ve ever had” said John after his bus got back to Wooler depot on the Friday morning. Some 12 hours after setting off from Newcastle. He set off at 7.38pm from Tyneside, a blizzard was blowing, but conditions were not bad. They got the empty bus as far as New Moor House crossroads west of Alnwick then was turned back. Mr Russell said “I started back to Wooler and after about half a mile the bus got stuck. Just before Miss Spiers, saw a figure coming towards us from a stranded lorry. Suddenly, the man fell down and then got up again and came towards the bus. It was a Mr Alan Easton.” We got him inside and dried him down then he and Miss Speirs set off walking toward New Moor House to use the telephone. Miss Speirs later returned with Mr Mossman the occupant who brought sandwiches and blankets which were most welcome. A snowplough arrived and offered to pull the bus out, but Mr Russell lacked the necessary equipment for the tow. Later Police Sergeant Nairn from Wooler Station who had previously visited the bus returned with a tow ring.

Sergeant R. Nairn and PC A. Chicken had started looking for the bus after Morpeth reported that it had not got through. They found the bus and 2 cars as well as the lorry stuck near Moor House. The occupants of one of the cars Mr & Mrs Philip Malthouse of Wooler were brought back to Wooler by the Police and the occupant of the other car was an Australian who got a lift back to Glanton where he lived. The lorry was dug out, but the bus was stuck.

Mr Russell had only just received his Kings Medal for Loyal Service in the 1939 -45 War, that Monday, 26 years after serving with the Royal Air Force. The family story has it; Grandad didn’t leave the bus because he was carrying the mail. I’m proud to say that this was my grandad as are other members of the family and I welcome the opportunity to write this article and make people aware of what he did. I remember fondly, the time I spent with him in Wooler on my holidays, playing in the buses parked up in the depot as well as going down the inspection pit. Happy days! We still have the newspaper clipping of the event as well as his long service certificate, save driving bus medals and his Kings Medal.

My Grandad – John Russell 1909 – 1979

The History of the Stannington Red Cloaks and Scarves




In November 2018 the village of Stannington will be holding a four-day event to commemorate 100 years since the end of WW1. The project which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery is designed to educate and inform all parts of Stannington Parish and the wider community about the experiences of Stannington residents, and that of the Parish service personnel in the First World War.

The project has turned up many interesting facts. It has been discovered that a tradition used to exist, whereby the children of the Stannington Village School received a gift from Lady Ridley every year around Christmas. The girls received a red cloak, and the boys a red scarf. Records show that the first mention of the Stannington red cloaks and scarves, was in March 1885. Lady Ridley, who later became the 1st Viscountess, instigated the presentation, which became a distinguishing and conspicuous feature of the children of Stannington School. The tradition was continued by the 2nd Viscountess Ridley, and appears in the school log throughout the years of the First World War.


School Log Book 1885


School Log 1918



The cloaks and scarves were worn on special occasions such as Harvest Festival and Christmas services in the church. They were also worn at Viscountess Ridley’s funeral.


The 1st Viscountess Ridley


The 2nd Viscountess Ridley


The tradition only ended in 1924 when the 3rd Viscountess Ridley, discovered that the cloaks were being issued so often “they were being made into rag rugs”. She also thought they smacked too much of “charity and institutionalism”. It was recently discovered that an original cloak still existed, and was in the possession of Stannington resident Doreen Robson. The cloak had belonged to Ella Brewis, a relative of Doreen and had been issued in the first few years of the 20th century.



The Original Red Cloak





The cloaks were produced by Pryce Pryce-Jones, who was born in 1834 in Newtown, Wales. He became an apprentice to a local draper, took over the business and in 1859 started trading under his own name. In 1861 he took advantage of the national postage service and began the first ever mail order business.


Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones


 During the 1870s Pryce-Jones took part in exhibitions all over the world, winning several medals and becoming world famous. In 1879 he opened the Royal Welsh Warehouse and expanded his sales of flannel and clothes way beyond Newtown. In the 1880s his patrons included the royal houses of Austria, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hanover, Italy, Naples and Russia. At the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 he was knighted as Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones.


Postcard advertising Pryce Jones Ltd



Cloak in Pryce-Jones Catalogue


It has now also been discovered that the red scarves were also issued to the boys of Netherton Training School, at the same time of year. This event was recorded in the Superintendent’s Log Book. Sadly, no original scarf survives, though the design was possibly the same red colour of the cloaks with grey bands at the ends similar to the Pryce-Jones sample below.

Posssible Scarf Design


The Heritage Lottery has funded thirty six cloaks to be reproduced with each cloak being individually named to honour a man from the Parish who lost his life in the war. The school will then use these for special events in the future. The Stannington Parish Centenary Festival of Remembrance  opens on Thursday 8th November with a spectacular flower festival in St Marys Church this will be followed on Friday 9th November by a re-enactment of the victory parade held by the school children in 1918 with the girls marching proudly around the village wearing their red cloaks, the boys wearing their red scarves and will be followed by a peace tea held in the Village Hall.

You will also have an opportunity to see the children wearing the red cloaks and scarves again  on Saturday  10th November when the Village will feature a WW1 living experience where “Frank”  a WW1 replica tank ( as featured in the films Wonder Woman & Transformers The last Knight) alongside   Ridley’s Aeroplane the Morane Type N “Bullet” monoplane ( courtesy of North East Air Museum) will be on display along with other re-enactment troops to act as a fantastic educational attraction for children and WW1 enthusiasts alike. The event concludes on Sunday 11th November where the children will attend St Mary’s Church Stannington for a special Remembrance service. If anyone reading this article has any photographs of the children wearing the red cloaks and scarves we would be most grateful to see them.


Lady Ridley with Isla inspecting one of the red cloaks at last years village show

This Week in World War One, 8 March 1918






There was a large gathering of farmers and farm servants at Belford hirings on Wednesday but comparatively speaking; the amount of hiring done was not great, owing to the strong desire on the servants’ part to have very high wages and the desire on the farmers’ part to keep wages within what they considered reasonable bounds. Several engagements were effected at wages ranging from 35s per week to 38s, and in a few instances £2 weekly was received by really good men; lads were engaged at a few shillings per week less. In all cases the usual perquisites were received. Female farm workers were engaged at £1 and 25s weekly. There was a general scarcity of food supplies for the visitors. There was little or no meat, and the few pies the bakers had prepared were speedily sold out. One of the public houses had ample beer supplies, and did a large business.



Arrangements are now possible for the formation of Depots of German prisoners in different parts of the county who will be available for agricultural work, and enquiries are now being made as to the extent to which farmers will desire to take advantage of such labour if provided.

This photograph shows the role of women working in the fields at that time, flax pulling at Selby, Yorkshire: Scottish, English, Irish and Belgian girl farm workers, and a Japanese student at work in the fields. Wikimedia Commons.

In future an applicant for exemption will only have to appear before the Tribunal when the National Service Representative objects to his appeal. Otherwise he will get his exemption automatically. The concession is a little late in coming, but it will still save a good deal of time being wasted.




At Berwick Petty Sessions on Thursday 7th March, John Dudgeon, baker, Walkergate was convicted of having used over twenty five per cent of imported flour in making of loaves in contravention of the Food Controller’s Regulations. The defence was that bread was baked on the half sponge system which obtains in Scotland, and was also affected by the temperature of the particular day on which it was manufactured. The police on the other hand, produced local master bakers to disprove this; holding that if white bread of this nature could be made at Berwick it would be sold in other towns as it would command a ready sale. The Chief Constable stated that he had on several occasions warned Mr Dudgeon as to the risk he was running in continuing to ignore the regulations, and was latterly forced to adopt proceedings. The Bench found defendant guilty, and imposed a fine of £5.




MEAT CARDS are being posted this week to all Persons who were resident in the above District on 5th October last, and registered under the Sugar Scheme.

Persons who have removed into this District since that date must make application to me for a Card by TUESDAY, the 12th instant, stating names and ages of the Household.


Executive Officer


March 7th, 1918






NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the above Scheme will come into force in the Glendale Rural District on the 25th March 1918, after which date supplies of MEAT, TEA, BUTER and  MARGERINE, BACON, and CHEESE, will only be procurable on production of a Food Card and from a retailer with whom the holder of the card is registered.

Cards will be issued to all Individuals, and any who have not received cards by 15th March should make immediate application to the Food Office.

ALL RETAILERS of the above mentioned Foodstuffs and all owners of Hotels, etc., will required to be registered, and must apply for Application Forms for Registration by March 11th.


Executive officer

Registry Office

WOOLER, 5th March 1918.




We are pleased to learn that letters have come to hand from Lieut. Wm. Gregson, R.F.C., son of the late Mr John Gregson, formerly editor of the “Berwick Advertiser,” and Mrs Gregson, High St. Berwick, stating that he has undergone an operation and has luckily retained his foot which was badly wounded, and that he was soon hopes to be well enough to be sent across to “Blightly”.

A French Red Cross train WW1. © Author: Paul Thompson, Wikimedia Commons.

Lieut. Gregson says he had just arrived at the rail head at a Casualty Clearing station, when he looked up and saw Private A. E. Constable of Berwick. Both recognised each other instantly and at the Clearing Station a good talk about Berwick and old times took place. Private Constable is serving on the Red Cross Ambulance Train.

Private Constable writing home says, “I was assisting to carry a Flying Officer, when I found I was carrying that old friend Wm. Gregson of Berwick. He recognised me at once and quoted a line of Juvenal. He had a pretty painful wound, but is one of our most cheery patients and is very anxious to talk about Berwick. Private Constable also writes that not long ago he came across the 7th N.F., and saw Lieut. Stiles, Lieut. Herriott and  Major A. H. M. Weddell.




A farm servant employed at Heatherytops, when following his occupation, fell from a cart and broke some of his ribs. We understand he is making progress towards recovery.

We understand the annual Egg service will be held in the Parish Church on Easter Sunday and in view of the need for eggs in our hospitals gifts of these will be most thankfully received.

We learn that a ballot of men employed at Scremerston Colliery, under provisions of the Man Power Bill, took place on Wednesday.

An early image of Scremertson Colliery © Northumberland Archives Berwick, BRO 515-209.


Little progress appears to be made with the Volunteer movement in the village, and there are only a few men taking part in the drills held at the Old Institute. One cannot help thinking it would be better for men who have the time to join the Volunteers before the next comb out takes place.

The Hope of Coldstream members (17) visited the Scremerston Lodge on Monday night. The Hope of Coldstream is a Lodge recently re-started, and they owe the re-start to the Hope of Scremerston, which was incidental in sending their present Chief Templar, Bro. W. Logan, who went to Coldstream a few months ago. Along with Sister Black he managed to get a few members together, and they have at the present 54. The Coldstream members filled the offices, and supplied the programme, which was very much enjoyed. The Scremerston Lodge provided them with a light refreshment before they proceeded on their way home.

Eugene and Emma – An Intercontinental Love Story


Eugene Sullivan was born in Bangalore, India in around 1833. His parents were British subjects, and his birth place suggests that his father may have held either military or governmental positions in the ever-expanding British Empire. Eugene appears to have continued the colonial legacy of his parents by joining the British army at the age of 18. His active military career lasted eighteen years before he requested to be discharged in 1870. During the discharge process a Manchester-based military hearing was given a synopsis of his career. The hearing was told that Sullivan had spent over twelve years of his military career stationed abroad. Through piecing together Eugene’s war record it would appear he witnessed both the Crimean War (in 1853) and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the Indian Mutiny or The Great Rebellion). Eugene’s military postings had taken him to the farthest frontiers of the British Empire – often into dangerous and politically dubious areas. Greater detail of his posts were given as follows; three and a half years in the East Indies, just under five years in the West Indies, seven months in the Mediterranean, a year in Crimea and five years in Canada.

During one of his postings abroad Eugene married his English-born wife Emma Parsons. They were joined together on the 4th March 1857 within an Anglican Garrison in Canada. Together the couple had a total of eight children over a twenty-four year period, with Emma and the three eldest children having followed Eugene across the world.

Their eldest child, Hannah E, was born soon after their marriage in 1858. Following her birth the family moved to Bermuda for a short period, where William J was born in 1861. They then returned to Canada and in 1868 Eugene D was born. Eugene the younger would grow up to become a reverend with a keen eye for financial sales and shares, whilst William would become a skilled workman crafting cabinets. Both brothers would subsequently die in the same death year: 1923.

Following Eugene’s request to be discharged from the army the Sullivan’s settled in Northumberland.  A third son, Ernest Lewis, was born soon after their return to England in 1871. He was baptised at St Paul’s church in Alnwick, near the family’s lodgings at Alnwick’s militia depot on Hotspur Street. From census material it would appear the family lived here whilst Eugene was working as a Drill Master on the site. A second daughter, named Emma Jessie Parsons, was born in 1873 and baptised at the same church as her brother but she tragically died during infancy.  The family’s grief over the death of their youngest child was soon replaced with joy as a third daughter, Amelia Gertrude Edith, arrived in 1878. She was followed in quick succession by two more girls; Ada Madoline in 1880 and Mabel Violet Florence in 1883. But the birth of Ada was overshadowed by the death of the Sullivan’s eldest daughter, Hannah, occurring in the same year.


A solicitor’s notes on the Sullivan case, showing the ages of the youngest daughters and the address of Emma’s elected trustee.


By 1885 the Sullivan’s marriage had spanned almost thirty years. It had created eight children, and endured the death of two. It had survived extreme warfare and stretched its affection across three continents. Perhaps the marriage had run out of steam, or perhaps the recent death of their eldest child was too great for the couple to overcome. Whatever the reasoning behind their decision the couple decided to amicably separate in 1885. They hired the Dickson, Mornington and Archer firm (as the Dickson, Archer and Thorp firm was known during a short period in the late nineteenth century) to settle any legal issues relating to the custody and financial support of their remaining children.

Separation and Agreements

The Sullivan’s separation was a unique one, and their micro-case can be used to trace seismic changes occurring throughout the nineteenth century with respect to divorce, women’s rights and familial settlements. Neither party sought a full legal divorce, perhaps because they wished to avoid any reputational shame or financial demands, but instead opted for a legally-supported separation. During their separation neither party received blame or vilification for the breakdown of the relationship. Contrary to the perceived character of an estranged husband, Eugene Sullivan penned letters to his lawyers filled with warm and affectionate words for Emma. However Eugene’s strong emotions were muted within official separation documents, and his actions were revealed to have been more complex. What therefore follows is an analysis of the couple’s official and private documents, framed within the greater concepts of nineteenth century divorce and marriage.


Correspondence regarding the settlement


The indenture outlining the terms of their separation cites “unhappy differences” which “have arisen between E.V Sullivan and Emma his wife” as the reason why “they have consequently agreed to live separate (not under the same roof) from each other for the future.” The document was made in the presence of a witness, William Bean, who was to act as Emma’s trustee. Parting to live under a separate roof was important phrasing which Eugene pushed to have included. But the inclusion of the phrase becomes confused when one reads his personal correspondence with the solicitors. In this series of documents Eugene repeatedly emphasises, and encourages, his assumed responsibility to furnish and finance Emma’s new lodgings.


Notes amending the legal separation, discussing the clause “to live apart”


Only four of the couple’s children were subject to the document’s conditions (and a potential custody battle) as, by 1885, two had predeceased the settlement and another two no longer lived in the family home. The document decided, and ultimately divided, custody over the children with the following statement;

“E.V Sullivan shall have custody and shall also maintain and clothe the said Ernest Louis Sullivan and the said Emma Sullivan shall have the custody of Amelia Gertrude Edith Sullivan aged 8 years, Ada Madoline Sullivan aged 5 years and Mabel Violet Florence Sullivan aged 3 years. And that the said E.V Sullivan shall have access to the said Amelia Gertrude Edith Sullivan, Ada Madoline Sullivan and Mabel Violet Florence Sullivan and the said Emma Sullivan shall have access to the said Ernest Louis Sullivan under such arrangements as shall to be made between them for this purpose or if they are unable to agree under such arrangements as shall be made by the said William Bean.”

It is perhaps telling that, whilst custody of the children takes up two pages of the document, references to the settlement of property take up three and a half pages. It was agreed, as part of the separation, that Emma would receive a weekly payment from Eugene, to be handled by her Trustee. However, the payment would be forfeited should the marriage be permanently dissolved by “any other jurisdiction.” This clause acted to prevent Emma from pursuing a total divorce. Regarding the inheritance of property, should Emma predecease Eugene, it was stated that he would inherit as was his “marital right.” The document also noted that Emma should not expect, and would not be given, any further financial support for the payment of future debts or every-day expenditure from Eugene.

But Emma also maintained her own conditions; rooted in her personal freedom and independence. She added a clause that, upon following the separate living arrangements, Eugene could not “molest or interfere with the said Emma Sullivan in her manner of living or otherwise.” This clause throws Eugene’s ‘caring’ letters into question. Was he really trying to provide for his estranged wife, and the children she maintained, by keeping her financially and furnishing her new abode? Or was it a way to maintain a level of control over Emma? The inclusion of so many specific clauses appeared to insinuate that, at least for Eugene, the bonds of marriage relating to property and name remained – even if the couple occupied separate lodgings.

Nineteenth Century Divorce and Marriage

During the nineteenth century the concept of divorce and marriage underwent drastic legal change. Marriage became more secular following various parliamentary acts. This drove separation and divorce out the ecclesiastical courts and into the jurisdiction of secular judges and solicitors; such as Dickson, Archer and Mornington. Married women were also afforded greater legal status as the century progressed, with specific regard to the custody of children – developments Emma clearly capitalised upon.

Prior to the latter 1800’s ecclesiastical divorce could be granted in extreme cases of adultery, cruelty or desertion although no party would be allowed to remarry. In 1857 the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act created a Probate and Divorce Court in London which allowed civil divorces. When using these courts parties still had to prove, with sufficient evidence, that serious adultery, cruelty, incest, bigamy or other heinous offences had occurred. Unfortunately, evidential proof was often difficult to establish and pursuing a divorce case could be costly to ones finances and reputation. There was no reference to ill-treatment or adultery in the Sullivan’s case, and perhaps this lack of vilification can be attested as the reason why a full legal divorce had not been sought.

The Married Woman’s Property acts of 1870 and 1882 gradually gave married women the right to hold property in their own name. The 1882 act gave women possession of all property held before or after their marriage – thus allowing women to become independent financial entities. But this still did not entitle married women to sue their husbands (as they remained one legal person) or be allowed to keep a legal residence apart from her husband. Thus Eugene’s acceptance of his wife’s second residence, forming part of a legal separation, was a double-edged sword. Although it allowed Emma to live a separate and more autonomous life, it would doubtlessly have been poorly judged by their contemporaries.


A letter from Eugene discussing the furnishing of Emma’s new lodgings


The Sullivan’s settlement had been carefully crafted by both sides to suit the middle ground between marriage and complete divorce. The document mediated between both sides, by allowing Emma to keep a separate residence and splitting custody of the children, as well as feeding into broader changes and trends. Emma therefore benefited from legal change and shifting social perceptions.

A Happily Ever After?

In the years which followed their separation neither party pursued an official divorce. Eugene retired as a Drill Master in Alnwick and moved across Northumberland; from 65 Beaconsfield Street in the ward of Arthur’s Hill, Newcastle Upon Tyne to Westgate.

In 1891 the couple appear to have either reconciled, or at least agreed to cohabit, with their extended family. The couple can be found on the census living in Westgate with their son Ernest Lewis. Ernest had returned to the family home having been married at 17 and widowed, during the birth of his son, at 19. Also living in the new family home were daughters Amelia, Ada and Mabel.

The family did not live in the Newcastle area for long, as they subsequently moved onto Alnmouth. Eugene died shortly after the move, in 1896, whereas Emma was still living in the area in 1911 at the age of 71. She peacefully lived out her final days under the care of her eldest son, William, in Alnmouth’s Percy Cottages on Front Street.


The Great Snow Storm of 1886


Snow fall isn’t anything new to us, but we have escaped heavy falls over the years. When it does snow there have always been travel delays, cancelled trains, snow drifts and communities pulling together. Although there have been some changes for instance horse power means something different these days and newspapers are slowly a thing of the past being replaced by social media and the internet. And the words reporters use in their stories, have changed dramatically. So let us go back virtually to the day, to 1886 and see what happened in Morpeth and the surrounding area…

On 6 March 1886, the Morpeth Herald reported that on Monday the inhabitants of the town and district witnessed one of the most severe snowstorms that have ever occurred perhaps in living memory. It started in the early hours of Monday morning and the storm raged with unwonted impetuosity. As the evening approached the wind seemed to increase in violence until it assumed the character of a hurricane whirling the blinding showers of snow in all kinds of fantastic shapes making traffic very unpleasant and almost impossible. Bridge Street and Newgate Street were almost deserted. There was very little abatement on the Tuesday morning. The sky had a dull laden appearance. Snow was drifting and most thoroughfares were 3ft deep and in some parts with the drifts up to 5ft 6”. The snow had drifted up the side of houses, creating fancy patterns on the windows and in some cases was half way up the side of residents front doors. On the Tuesday morning the residents mobilised and began searching for shovels, spades and implements of every description to try and clear the pathways. In a few hours both sides of the street were in good order. Mr Sanderson, Road Surveyor of the Local Board, rigged up a snow plough and soon made a capital passage down the middle of the road for vehicular traffic. He proceeded towards the country district, but came to a halt due to the high snow drifts on the Stobhill Road where the efforts of the 8 horses attached to the plough stopped.
Mr Sanderson, on the Wednesday made another attempt up Shields Road with the snow plough and got a fair distance along, then returned and went up the South Turnpike, but got no further than South Gate, where a snow drift of some 18 feet stopped his progress.

The shop keepers and merchants of the town could not get their provisions out to their customers and the Post Office faired little better with delivering the post. The Rothbury Coach driven by Mr Paton arrived on the Monday night, but could not proceed on the Tuesday. Mr Drysdale on Tuesday attempted with two horses to get to Newbiggin, but only got as far as Quarry Bank when he had to turn back to town. On the Wednesday, Mr Knight the Post Master and Mr Drysdale attempted to proceed to Newcastle by road with the mail bags for the South, but on getting the Catchburn, they were compelled to abandon their carriage and proceed on horseback. They managed to reach Stannington, but no further. There was no good news for train travellers at Morpeth Station either as the lines were under so much snow. The “Fish Train”, which normally arrives about 9.30pm did not arrive at all. It had been shunted into sidings a little further north to allow the “Scotch Express” to come through. The Express arrived at 10.20 and proceeded on its way south through a blinding snowstorm. It got as far as Forest Hall and got stuck in the snow and its passengers were stuck in their carriages until Tuesday morning. Arriving at Newcastle Central Station, some 12 hours late.

The news of heavy snow in the north complied trains to stop at Morpeth Station and passengers had to make their minds up to “Rough It” until the way was clear. Many went into the town and stayed in hotels until the Thursday morning. Some stayed in the waiting room, others in the carriages or Saloon cars.  A snow plough with 4 engines attached left Newcastle on Tuesday morning at 8am. They were prevented from getting to Morpeth until they cleared the North Mail Train and after several hours got her clear only to encounter further drifts at Annitsford and Cramlington, reaching Morpeth at 2pm.
It was not until the Thursday morning that a train arrived from Newcastle in the afternoon with the newspapers and letters aboard. A train also arrived from the Blyth and Tyne section which had been blocked since the Monday. A few cattle trains were snowed up north of Morpeth and many poor animals were reduced to sore straits, through not being able to procure food or water and also exposure to cold. In a few instances some cows in one truck were delivered calves.

The Passengers in Morpeth:
The majority of the passengers who left the train found their way into town with considerable difficulty. Mr Thompson, an Auctioneer from Chester-le-Street on his way to Glasgow for a Stallion show and Secretary of the North East Agricultural Horse Society found lodgings in the Newcastle Hotel, run by Mrs Atkinson. He and his fellow travellers, speak in the highest terms of the Morpeth people and the Railway officials. The gentlemen travellers were entertained by members of the Morpeth Club. The Rector of Morpeth invited the ladies to take up quarters in the Rectory, but some preferred to remain in the Pulman Cars which formed part of the train. They stayed there until 1pm on the Thursday when communication with Newcastle was opened. Notification was received that the down line was open, but there was still a blockage on the north bound line, north of Berwick. Those wishing to leave Morpeth south bound left at 3.15pm and reached Newcastle shortly after 4pm. A large number did venture north in the hope that when they reached Berwick the blockage would be cleared. Mr Turnbull, states that on his journey back home he saw in many places the height of the snow was greater than the height of the carriages and the cuttings of the snow drifts had been done entirely by hand.

The cattle truck stuck north of Morpeth arrived on the Thursday morning; however in some of the trucks a few sheep had died and the cattle for the Newcastle, Leeds and Wakefield markets were in need of fodder. Once these carriages reached Morpeth, hay was put into the trucks and devoured most ravenously by the cattle. Three trains from the south were delayed at Morpeth and surprise was expressed by passengers that the railway company’s should have despatched the trains under the circumstances.

The story of one family:
Among the passengers on the Pullman stuck near Acklington were Mr Barclay Holland and Mrs Holland of Countesswells, with Miss Beadon their nurse and a child aged 4, the daughter of Mr & Mrs Holland (the only child on the train). The party left Aberdeen at 4.40pm on the Monday for London and were on the Pullman attached to the “Scotch Express” and were stuck in the drift near Acklington on the Tuesday morning. There we were, said one of the ladies “Stuck in the middle of two fields of snow for 17 hours with little food, except what some cottagers were kind enough to bring us”. The provisions provided were shared equally amongst the travellers and consisted of a cup of tea a slice of bread and butter and a bit of cheese. The tea of course was cold by the time we got it, but they were grateful. There was a chance to get to Acklington.

On arriving at Acklington they ploughed waist deep in snow towards the inn. They got there on Tuesday night at 8 and had ham and eggs, bread and butter. There were only 4 rooms in the house and many slept on the floor others sat in chairs round the fire and dozed the night away. Others stayed in the waiting room. The inn keeper wasn’t prepared for the influx of 45 guests as well as 80 navvies working on the railway. “We had nothing, but ham in the house and had to cook 12 hams and managed to get some loafs of bread. Once the bread was all eaten up on the Wednesday morning we only had ham and biscuits.” Nobody seemed the worse for the trouble and inconvenience, although they all suffered from the cold on the Tuesday. The snowed up passengers had made a deal of the only child on the train and the family party concurred in praising the innkeeper for the way he had ransacked the place for provisions and done his best to make them comfortable in the circumstances.



Devils in the Bed


Examination and Diagnosis

On the 30th day of November, in the year 1860, two surgeons came to a home in Narrowgate, Alnwick to examine a Mr William Marshall for proof of “insanity.” The medical examination had been arranged by William’s family and facilitated by Hugh Lisle Esq, a local Justice of the Peace. William’s story, pulled from the Dickson, Archer and Thorp collection, allows us a unique insight into the lives of those diagnosed “insane,” and the families they often left behind, in nineteenth century Northumberland.


Order for the Reception of the Patient William Marshall


The surgeons examining William were a Henry Caudlish and a Thomas Feuder. In line with the requirements of their positions all three men completed detailed forms evaluating William’s mental well-being. The survival of these medical forms, used to certify William’s illness and record the thoughts of officials, make them rare and insightful pieces.

Henceforth are transcribed extracts from these forms, with the originals shown in pictures:

Facts indicating Insanity observed by myself:

Thomas: “He fancies that there are Devils in the bed, or parties going to do him some grievous bodily harm, he fancies that the bed clothes are moving. He is desponding.”

Henry: “He states that I have a desire to poison him, and that I have an interest in doing so and that I were among many conspirators. Fancies that there is poison in his bed – and in his food.”

Other facts (if any) indicating Insanity communicated to me by others:

Henry: “He persists that a great quantity of poison has been given to him, but not yet the fatal dose, and that if he dies a hundred persons will be living for him – communicated to me by his wife.”

Thomas: “He refuses his food and persists that what is presented to him contains poison – communicated to me by his wife.”


Medical Certificate for Marshall Case Signed by Henry Caudlish


Medical Certificate for Marshall Case Signed by Thomas Fueder


For William the visions of devils, paired with his belief that someone was secretly poisoning him, were vivid and terrifying. Yet the surgeons found a conspiracy unlikely, and they concluded William was indeed suffering from “insanity.” Upon the diagnosis Hugh Lisle arranged for William to be taken from his home to reside in the Northumberland County Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Morpeth. But why was William suffering with such terrifying visions? And what life awaited him in the county asylum?


Health and Visions

William was not the only patient sent to reside in the Morpeth asylum for having paranoid thoughts. The admission book for the asylum’s patients shows that many were diagnosed upon arrival as suffering from “delusional insanity.”

On the arrival of each new patient their symptoms, and the presumed cause, would be carefully recorded. These so-called causes often included hereditary problems and work place accidents. The surgeon’s involved in William’s case noted the cause to his problems stemmed from a mix of pre-existing medical issues, including chronic asthma and general ill health, with “straitened circumstances.”


Family Troubles and “Straitened Circumstances”

William Marshall was 50 years old when he suffered his first bout of psychological illness in the year 1860. He had lived in Alnwick his whole life, along with his wife Mary and their ever-growing brood.

Together the Marshall’s had eight children; Sarah, Isabella, William, John, Mary, Joseph, Thomas and Annie. The Marshall brood had a staggering age range, with the eldest being twenty years older than the youngest. But, sadly, not all the Marshall children reached adulthood, as Thomas died in 1856 aged just five.

William worked as a coach keeper to support his large family, and his sons followed him into coach and horse-keeping professions. In 1861, less than a year after William was removed from the family home due to his supposed “insanity,” his son John was working as a coach smith whilst Joseph was a hostler. By 1871 Joseph had progressed in the world, and is listed in the census as owning what appears to be 4 acres of land (although how he came to this settlement is a mystery.)

Following her husband’s illness Mary needed to find a way to financially support her young family. She subsequently became a cow keeper. Cow keepers often kept dairy animals, such as cows and goats, within their backyards and would use them to make and distribute dairy products amongst their neighbours. William’s daughters also took up professions to support the family, with Isabella becoming a dressmaker and Mary a domestic servant.

Working hard to feed and provide for his ever-growing family, yet still witnessing some of his children die, must have put strain on William’s own health and mental well-being. These demands, teamed with a potentially dubious financial situation, may explain the “straitened circumstances” referred to in his medical report. Thus, it is unsurprising that these pressures began to manifest in his psychological well-being.


The Northumberland County Asylum

Using the asylum’s minute book we know 80 male patients and 77 female patients were in residence when William arrived at the tail-end of November 1860. We also know, from notes made on the asylum’s weekly purchases, that William would have ate a diet of mutton, scotch oatmeal, split peas and livered meat during his first month.


Birds eye view of the asylum 1901


On the 4th March 1861, roughly three months after William had arrived, the asylum received a visit from its Board of Guardians. What they observed was recorded in the institution’s minute book and can be used to give us a deeper insight into William’s experience of the Northumberland County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. During the visit the gentlemen noted that patients had “good bodily health” and were “without exception quiet and orderly.” They recommended enlarging the chapel, and adding blinds to the patient’s dormitories, to encourage godliness and increase patient privacy. Overall the board members were pleased with the asylum, and noted how they had enjoyed a “good laugh” with some of its residents.

To understand more about the Northumberland County Pauper Lunatic Asylum please see one of the archives’ previous blogs on the subject:



The Devil Put To Bed

It is unlikely William ever left the asylum following his 1861 entry. In the 1871 census Mary Marshall listed herself as being a widow, with William’s death having probably occurred less than a year before in 1870. One can only hope William was no longer troubled by devils in his bed.


This Week in World War One, 22 February 1918








We are pleased to see home on leave from France, Gunner G. P. Pringle, Tank Corps, a Murton lad. He has had some trying times, but looks fit and well. Gunner Pringle was one of the crew of a disabled Tank, but luckily he escaped with only a few scratches, while his comrades fell at his side. We wish him every good wish and best luck until he finally returns. When on leave he had the pleasure of meeting his brother Richard, whom he had not seen for some eighteen months. Driver Richard Pringle enlisted at the time when his parents received the news of another brother’s death in July 1916. Mr and Mrs Pringle have every reason to be proud of their family’s record. All three lads were born at Berwick-on-Tweed.

Looking the picture of health, we are pleased to see Dispatch Rider John Logan, son of Mr. Adam Logan Lloyds Agent, Berwick, home on a leave from France. He joined up in the

WW1 Bronze Star

early stages of the war and there being great need at the time for dispatch riders he was almost immediately drafted into France. He took part in the trying engagements at the beginning of the campaign and was attached to the Indian Cavalry. Cyclist Logan is one of the local men who are qualified for the 1914 Bronze Star and he proudly wears the ribbon which signifies his connection with the “Old Contemptables.” We understand he has been recalled for duty and there is a possibility of his being sent East. We are sure his many friends in the borough will wish him every success and the best of good luck in the future.




A little amusement was occasioned in the early part of the week by a joke perpetrated by some local humourist. People passing the old stocks at the Town Hall were surprised to find a recumbent figure assuming every air of penitence pilloried in the orthodox fashion. Closer examination proved that the figure was not of the flesh and a message was sent to the military authorities who removed it to its proper quarter. To save any misapprehensions we may state that it was one of the stuffed dummies used for bayonet practice by the troops in training at the Barracks.

The Royal National Life-Boat Institution has just sent a new and powerful Motor Life-Boat to the Tynemouth Station, to replace the Motor Life-Boat which has been stationed there since 1911 and has saved 68 lives since then. The new life-boat was built by Messrs. S. E. Saunders Ltd., of Cowes, Isle of Wight, and is of the self-righting type, 40ft long by 10ft. 6ins beam with a 40 B. H. P. Tylor Motor and Gardner. Reverse Gear installed. The boat bears the name “Henry Frederick Swan” in accordance with the wishes expressed by Mrs. Lowes of Bath, who has presented the boat to the Institution.

While senior footballers are playing a sterner game on foreign fields, local juniors are doing their best to keep fit for the world struggle likely to come after hostilities end.

Almost weekly teams of juveniles are meeting and if the results do resemble a cricket score it shows at least that they are playing the game strenuously. Last week two games were played. Messrs W. Elder & Sons’ lads received a beating on Saturday to the tune of five goals to nil at the hands of Spittal Hearts, while Mr Peacocks’ school boys on Thursday waltzed home over the British School team by 8 goals to nil.




Not much happens on the Holy Isle to disturb the even tenor of its life. When, however, the gun from the lifeboat calling its crew to immediate services, suddenly strikes the air, life is electrified into action. Last Monday, just before noon, the Island had, once again, that experience. All that could be gathered from the Coastguard was, that a small sailing ketch was on the Castle-head rocks which skirt the northern beach. One drew comfort from the consideration that, although the sea was rough, it was by no means wild.

In a very short time a large crowd were gathered round the lifeboat; nine-tenths of whom were the active womenfolk belonging to the fishing homes. That they had not come as curious spectators was soon apparent by the orderly manner in which they, seizing the towing ropes, and headed by the Vicar, hauled the boat down the beach and into the water; daunted no way by the waves, and never desisting till they knew she was properly afloat. There could not have been a finer snapshot than that launching of the “Lizzie Porter,” a most worthy subject for the pencil of any artist. The Vicar remarked, when the service rendered by the women was referred to, so many men were away to the mine-sweeping, that if it were not for the women of the Island, no lifeboat could be launched.

An early photograph of a Holy Island lifeboat (c) BRO 2333-007

The motor boat being afloat in the harbour, and the sea not being insurmountable, proceeded to the wreck, in front of the lifeboat, and managed with care to take off the crew of three men, and to land them safely ashore. As nothing else could be done; the ship, being water logged and solid, was left to its fate. She was found to be a small sailing ketch; her name, the “Thomas Henry,” and was carrying a cargo of about 120 tons of coal from the Firth of Forth. This craft had been in difficulties off Burnmouth, and had only left that harbour on Saturday.

It may be mentioned that the wreck was first discovered by George Douglas, sea scout, and his uncle, Thomas Douglas, home on leave, both of whom were walking in that direction.

Seaman Henderson, belonging to the lifeboat crew, and Private John Grey, both home on leave, took an active part in the work of the day.

Ann Wilson – Widow, Pauper and Eloping Lover

The Poor and the Law

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries local parishes were made responsible for the care of paupers within their jurisdiction. This care was given in the form of poor relief legislated by a series of ‘Poor Laws;’ the most notable being the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. The concept of poor relief was a controversial one, attracting numerous critics. One its major flaws related to the notion of ‘settlement.’ Parishes naturally resented paying for paupers whom had originated beyond their jurisdiction, and would often try to forcibly return them to their ‘home’ parishes. Yet the fluid nature of society, especially during the industrial revolution, made it increasingly hard to prove where a “pauper” should be placed. Thus solicitors, such as the Dickson, Archer and Thorp firm, were often called upon to resolve settlement disputes.

This exact issue arose in September 1853 when two Overseers of the Poor from the parish of Saint Nicholas, situated within Newcastle Upon Tyne, began legal proceedings to forcibly remove two “paupers” from their jurisdiction. These Overseers signed themselves in the removal order as Sir John Fife and William Armstrong. The order directed the “paupers” to be moved into the northern parish of Bamburgh. Although it is not clear from archival documents as to why Bamburgh was chosen it is perhaps telling that Bamburgh’s own Overseers of the Poor fiercely disputed the removal order and so employed the legal aid of Dickson, Archer and Thorp.

Widowed Paupers

The two “paupers” facing removal from the parish of Saint Nicholas in September 1853 were the widow Ann Wilson, aged just 25, and her daughter Elizabeth, aged about two years. Sending widows away from a parish of settlement, previously adopted by their deceased spouses, was a common occurrence in nineteenth century Northumberland. The process often caused heart-breaking social and economic turmoil, as vulnerable women were removed from established networks of friends and family and placed in often unfamiliar areas without obvious employment or emotional support.


Order to remove Ann Wilson to Bamburgh 1853


It is therefore unsurprising that the potential move was also sternly opposed by Ann herself. Ann had already faced the stigma of possibly welcoming a child out of wedlock, braved her employer’s wrath to elope with her lover and tragically endured early widowhood – clearly she was not a woman who would be moved easily. Thus, whilst her experience of parish poor relief could be deemed atypical of a nineteenth century Northumbrian widow, her situation was far more complex and it made fighting the order a matter of survival and reputation.

Young Lovers

Ann was the daughter of a sailor, named in legal documents as Henry Pryle Gibson. He was recorded in ejectment proceedings as living near Forth Banks, close to Newcastle’s Quayside, but in Ann’s personal testimony he seems to have had little to do with her life.

Instead Ann had spent the majority of her youth working as a domestic servant. In this occupation she had spent almost 3 years living in Newton on the Moor whilst working for the publican-come-blacksmith Mr Wall. In her testimony, given to prove she had been legally married to her deceased husband, she tenderly recalled how it was during her first few weeks in Newton on the Moor that she met the colliery engine-man James Wilson.


Copy of James Wilson’s baptism certificate, produced as evidence of his existence


The young couple began a three year courtship which reached a decisive point when Ann became pregnant in the beginning of 1851. To have maintained a child out of wedlock would have put great financial pressure and reputational shame upon Ann; probably forcing her to give up domestic employment and seek the support of parish organisations. Thus, probably to avoid moral judgement, the young couple decided to elope to the Scottish borders and resolve their situation legally.

The Legality of Love

Marriages conducted by eloping couples on the border were clandestine in the eyes of the Church, this made them notoriously hard to prove in retrospect. Ann’s account of her elopement is lengthy, witty and fast-paced. It was recorded verbatim by the solicitors and had been carefully crafted to prove the legality of her marriage and, in turn, the legitimacy of Elizabeth – two facts which the Newcastle Overseers had questioned. Being a legal widow, and having a legitimate child, would have put Ann in a much stronger position to fight the parish removal order and lift the reputational slur the men of Saint Nicholas’ parish had placed on her. Ann’s account was also verified by a number of witnesses including her mother-in-law (even though her testimony infers that she may not have wholly approved of her new daughter-in-law.)


A letter containing extracts of Ann Wilson’s statement


According to these accounts Ann and James eloped to the Scottish border on the 6th June 1851, travelling via train from Newcastle to Berwick. Once at Tweedmouth Station they met with the man who was to marry them; Anderson Sommerville. Sommerville first took the lovers by horse drawn carriage to a public house in search of witnesses; here they met George Dobson and George Davison. The latter was a soldier tasked with recruiting in Berwick that day. The group then moved onto the Lamberton toll booth to conduct the ceremony.

The Lamberton toll house was a popular place for clandestine marriages. One of Lamberton’s previous toll keepers, John Foster, had even received lifetime banishment from Scotland for conducting clandestine marriages on his land in 1818. This punishment had little effect though, as Foster primarily lived in England and he would often ignore the notice anyway.

Within the toll house the Wilson’s were taken to a room with a table, bottle of whiskey and a prayer book. It was in this room where they exchanged their vows and signed the relevant documentation. After the brief ceremony all five drank a toast of whiskey to the marriage’s prosperity which was, unfortunately, to be short-lived.

Hanover Street and a New Start

Ann clearly thought she had embarked upon a whole new, exciting life following her elopement. When the couple returned to Northumberland it would appear James returned to Newton on the Moor, to tie up the loose ends left behind by their hasty departure, he then followed Ann down to Newcastle where she had found them a home in the city’s Hanover Street.

It was here that Ann gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth, on the 28th September 1851. But sadly, around the same time, James died following a short illness.

James’ death left Ann with a young child to feed and care for. It was during this painful, and probably traumatic, experience she found herself seeking poor relief from parish officials. Evidence also suggests she was possibly forced out of her new home. These circumstances therefore assembled to bring her to the attention of senior parish officials, whom questioned her marriage and associated right to remain in the area, and set in motion the removal order.

A Legal Success

Proving Ann Wilson’s right to settle in Saint Nicholas’ parish was dependent upon her having been legally married to her husband, however this was difficult to evidence due to the secret nature of their union. Nonetheless, through tireless county and cross-border investigation, solicitors at the Dickson, Archer and Thorp practice were able to successfully evidence an appeal against the removal order on behalf of Bamburgh’s Overseers of the Poor and prove the authenticity of a small marriage certificate, given to Ann on her wedding day. Officials from the parish of Saint Nicholas eventually revoked their removal order and Ann and Elizabeth appear to have found somewhere within Newcastle to stay.


Letter adjoining the Appeal notice accepted by all parties


Ann had asserted her right to remain within the Newcastle Parish, but it is unlikely she would have had the tools to fight the removal order on her own had she not also had the support of Bamburgh’s parish officials. Hence this is a story of two parties working simultaneously with the solicitors – if only for their own gains.

A final triumph for the unyielding Ann, and an appropriate end to this blog, potentially occurred on the 7th October 1854. When an Elizabeth Wilson, recorded as being the daughter of an ‘Ann Wilson” and born towards the end of 1851, was christened at Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle.


This Week in World War One, 8 February 1918




We are pleased to learn that Bombardier Arthur Skeldon. R.F.A., has been awarded the Military Medal for “having extinguished burning ammunition and for coolness and accuracy in laying his gun while under heavy shell fire and when the rest of his detachment had become casualties.” He was also promoted bombardier on the field. He is a present in one of the Base Hospitals suffering from shrapnel wounds in the leg. This gallant soldier has been in France for three years, joining up when only a schoolboy when the war began. He is well known in Spittal, being the grandson of the late Mr Joseph Johnson, who was for a many years Dock Master at Tweedmouth. His younger brother Joe, has now joined up and is a corporal in the 19th Hussars at Aldershot. They are both nephews of Lieut. J. Johnston, R.E., who was awarded the D.C.M., for “conspicuous bravery” and given a commission on the field; and of Mr James Johnson, R.N.R., who was called up on August 3rd, 1914, and who along with so many of our local lads has done splendid service on that gallant ship the Macedonia. Good luck to them all.




We are pleased to announce that official news has been received to the effect that Corporal O. Carr has been awarded the Military Medal. He is the first Wooler man to receive this distinction, and is to be congratulated on his success, which was well deserved as he has proved himself a brave soldier and gone through a lot of fighting. Previous to the war he was a member of the Territorial Force, and when they were mobilised he with others of the Northumberlands was called upon, and after undergoing their course of training were drafted out to France. It will be remembered that on their arrival at the front they were immediately sent into action at the first battle of Ypres, when Brig. General Riddell (another Wooler man) was killed. After completing his four years he was discharged, but joined up again and since then he has been in the thick of it. Corporal Carr is a son of Mr Alexander Carr of Wooler, and in civil life worked with Messrs T. Smart and Sons, slaters and plasterers, Wooler. He was home on leave quite recently, looking fit and well and as eager as ever. Let us hope that he will soon be able to return safe and sound after a complete victory over the unscrupulous enemy.




The members of B. Coy. Northern Cyclists at present stationed in Seahouses under Lieut D. F. Thomson, together with service men on leave or discharged were entertained to a social evening by a few friends in Seahouses. The entertainment was organised by Miss Ord, Seahouses Post Office, who has in a general way befriended the Cyclists stationed here since 1914. She was ably assisted by the following ladies who provided cakes etc., Mrs Geo. Smith, Mrs W. A. Matthews, Mrs R. W. Mackenzie, Mrs M. Cuthbertson, Mrs H. A. Lawson and Miss Turnbull. Subscriptions were given by Mrs L. B. Ross and Messrs R. and C. W. Dawson, tobacco by Mr L. B. Ross and each man to the number of 50 were presented with a packet of cigarettes by Mr Geo. Smith. Supper was served in the billet, and after it had been thoroughly enjoyed the company adjourned to the large cycle shed which had been artistically decorated by the military under the direction of Mr Geo. Smith. Here they were joined by a number of young ladies. Mrs L. B. Ross kindly lent her piano and excellent music was provided by Corporal Whillicks (piano) and Cyclist Brown (violin). Games and dancing were enjoyed and songs were sung by Miss C. S. Walker, Miss Lizzie Cuthbertson, Miss Helen Young, Quarter Master Sergeant Dixon and Cyclist Gill. Cyclist Potts also gave an exhibition in step dancing. Second-Lieut. Jobson on behalf of the men thanked Miss Ord and those who had so kindly assisted her in providing such an excellent evenings’ entertainment. The men showed their appreciation in a hearty manner. Mr R. W. Mackenzie courteously acted as M.C. Tea urns and ware were kindly lent by Mrs James Young, Longstone House and others.




The donations for providing of Christmas parcels for members of Wallace Green Church serving at the front were £16 1s 11d., and the retiring collection £12 5s 8d., making a total of £28 7s 7d. 188 comforts, consisting of woollen goods, cigarettes, soap, etc., were sent in 25 parcels were dispatched to the east, 62 to France, and 46 for home, making a total of 133 parcels sent to the different places. Mr Macaskill has received 64 letters and 4 visits from those who got parcels. It was feared that the Salonica parcels had been sunk by enemy action. The Committee are glad to say such is not the case as Mr Macaskill has had leers from Salonica. Thanks are accorded to Mr Geo. Martin, for the free printing of the Christmas letters and to Messrs Bishop, for a handsome gift of Berwick Cockles.




Margaret Aird, married woman, Tweedmouth, was charged with having neglected her five children, aged respectively 12, 10, 9, 7 and 3 years, on 1st February. She pleaded guilty to leaving her children in the house without a fire guard.

The Chief Constable explained that this was one of the cases they were loath to bring before the Court. She was the wife of a soldier in Salonika, had 39s 6d allowance, and with the income of the oldest child had £2 7s. There had been complaints about the defendant’s conduct for some time past and the police had had her under surveillance. She had been gradually selling the house furniture and the allowance was being diverted to other channels.

Sergt. J. McRobb said on Friday evening, 1st February, he was on duty in Well Road with P.C. Lindsay watching the house. They met defendant going home and on returning with her found there was a large fire on and no guard. All the children were in bed but Mary, aged 12, who was sitting at the fireside. The children were scanty and dirtily clothed, and there was a room she would not open. There was a half loaf and some tea and sugar in the house. Defendant said that a mattress was utilised for the rest sleeping on the floor. Witness had seen her twice or three times coming home between 11 and 12 o’clock at night in one week and she had been under their surveillance for three months.

By Mr Herriot – The children did not appear to be starved, but they could have been better.

Capt. Norman enquired if defendant was ever seen under the influence of drink, and the reply was the negative.

The Chief Constable said it was worse than a case of drinking.

Witness (resuming) said he had seen her twice at night at Borewell, Scremerston, and she was not alone on these occasions.

P.C. John Lindsay said he had seen defendant on several occasions late at night with different parties, and he thought it was improper conduct when her husband was away.

Defendant, in a voluble and forcible manner, addressed the Bench, and denied that she had neglected her children, maintaining that there was animosity shown towards her by her own people because she would not speak to them.

The Mayor enquired if the children had been kept regularly at school.

The Chief Constable said that so far as he knew there were no complaints on this ground and the police had not made enquiries; the complaints were with regard to defendant’s nightly conduct, which had continued for some time.

After a private deliberation lasting over fifteen minutes the Mayor said that the Magistrates had found defendant guilty, but for the sake of the children they would not send her to prison. She would be bound over for six months under £5, be placed under the observation of the Probation Officer, and would be asked to pay the costs, 5s.