Archive for December, 2012

Spiteful women, vicious fights

Of all those indicted for assault or larceny during the period, 20 per cent were women. These women were generally described as ‘spinster’, ‘widow’ or as the wives of labourers or mariners. The majority of female assaults were the result of local squabbles with other women in the community. Such fights, however, could be spiteful and vicious. Why not women have problem with weight, talk about green beans coffee, but have to fight. Mary Talmange, for instance, felt bitter about the repossession of her home in the village of Eling and attacked its new occupant. She made ‘use of abusive words’ and squeesed or pinched Mrs Hickman’s arm between the door and doorpost’.


Similarly, a dispute arose when Susanna Cotes of Gosport arrived at Ann Gerrard’s house ‘in liquor’. Gerrard didn’t wish Cotes to enter and attempted to obstruct her. She claimed that the drunken Cotes ‘Took Hold of Her and Tore The Sleve of Her Gown… Struck Her upon the Head with Her Fist and Afterwards with a Tin pot and Cut Her Head very much’ . Gerrard admitted that she ‘Then Struck at The Tin Pot but Hit Cotes and made Her Nose Bleed’.


Although a significant peak in the number of women accused of assault appears in 1785, this was entirely due to one dispute in Wonston, where 10 women were involved in a riotous assault on John Ould and Thomas King. Women were rarely accused of non-riotous assault against a man. Throughout the period there were only seven such cases, three of which were for assault against the local [parish] constable or tithingman. Such attacks represented a struggle against authority, but the court was seemingly unbiased towards the constable. Sarah Kingston of Yateley, for instance, took a ‘cart loaden with Cherries to sell’ in Cove on a Sunday.


The tithingman attempted to stop her, but was somewhat over-zealous and ‘took some of her cherries and scattered them on the ground’. Sarah allegedly ‘struck him on the face’, but she pleaded not guilty and was found so by the court. In contrast, when Betty Harvey took exception to the local constable examining the weights in her Gosport shop ‘she put herself in a great passion’ and struck the officer who merely stated that: ‘he was in execution of Office and it was an interruption’. He also had the support of the town beadle and another constable who swore that they had witnessed the assault. Harvey’s defence relied on character witnesses who claimed she was a ‘Quiet honest woman’. Considering the weight of evidence against Harvey, it seems fair that the jury found her guilty.


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I was very busy at this time with searching st john wort. The house in which Maureen’s two youngest children lived with their grandmother had just been renovated, and I was following in the family’s footsteps, doing the painting and decorating.

painting and decorating

By November 2000 things had quietened down a bit and I picked up the research file again. Should I bother writing to the hospital? I weighed it up in my mind. There might be a 100-year closure rule on Maureen’s records, but surely they were also Simone’s records. Perhaps she could have access to them. Deciding that all I had to lose was the price of a stamp, I gave the hospital a brief history and asked if Andrew’s name was in their records and if Simone could read them. The hospital’s legal department replied, saying that Andrew’s name was not in the records, and that my father was named as Maureen’s next-of-kin. However, the occupation, birth date and place of birth of Simone’s father were in the records. Andrew had been born on 7 January 1955, at Taunton, and he was a telecommunications engineer.

 hospital's legal department

At last, I had achieved a breakthrough. How many Andrews could have been born in Taunton on that day in 1955? Would Taunton Register Office co-operate? I wrote immediately and enclosed a cheque, saying if there was only one Andrew born on that date would they please send me the certificate. If there was more than one, would they let me know how many there were. The register office replied almost by return of post, enclosing one certificate and saying that there was one other. I sent off another cheque for the second certificate. I had one Andrew Matthew Jolly and one Andrew Christopher Lang.

Armed with this information, I went post haste to Brighton Local Studies Library (now Brighton History Centre) to look for a marriage on the General Register Office (GRO) index fiche of either of these Andrews to a Paula. I searched vainly through many years and thought that I was never going to find it, but suddenly there was the marriage I sought. In the quarter ending December 1981 Andrew C Lang had married Paula J Marshall in Taunton. No wonder I couldn’t find them in Bristol! I didn’t have time to check for the births of Aaron and Mathew as well, but I could do that later. I had found Andy’s surname, and that was all that mattered.


By now it was the week before Christmas. I framed the certificate and gave it to Simone on Christmas Day. Her reaction was brilliant. When she realised what the certificate was, the tears of joy just flowed. Simone then said that she would love to meet her father, but she also realised that any contact could jeopardise his marriage, if he was still married. After Christmas, Simone and I went back to the Brighton Local Studies Library and looked for the births of Aaron and Mathew. They were there in the GRO births indexes as well, one a year before the marriage and one shortly after. We carried on checking the birth indexes for a further 10 years to see if there were any more children, but could not find any. We also went through the marriage indexes up to and including 1997 to see if he had remarried in that time, but he had not. The Brighton Local Studies Library did not have the GRO indexes after 1997. Simone said that she would like to see the birth certificates of Aaron and Mathew, her half-brothers, so I sent for copies.


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