Who’s for a Fancy Dress New Years Eve Ball ? 2014 or 1882 no matter…in Weymouth town it’s always been one big party!

From the title of my blog, you may or may not have guessed that I am lucky enough live in Weymouth, Dorset.

I am extremely biased about my home town…o.k., so maybe it’s not perfect, but where is at the moment with the dire economic state of affairs.

I could never live anywhere else, we have so much to appreciate here, stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, historic harbourside….the list of advantages goes on and on.

But one thing that I have always thoroughly enjoyed about living here was the huge New Years Eve celebrations…it just has to be the best ever.

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Weymouth  on this occasion turns into one almighty ginormous all-encompassing fancy dress town. Everyone but everyone turns out in full blown costume, from superheroes to celebrities, animals to cartoon characters and all manner of fantastic and clever disguises in between.

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There are numerous pubs and clubs to visit, live music on the seafront to get toes tapping, it really is the best place to be to enjoy a lively atmosphere and great fun.

Even the police cars used to go through the town with their somewhat unusual sirens…aka ice cream chimes! (Not so sure they’d be allowed to do that now.)

So popular as a destination for revelry has it become that it’s even made it to the top of the party list in Europe.

http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/news/11653521.Weymouth_New_Year_s_Eve_celebrations_voted_among_best_in_Europe/

You might not think so, but even our Victorian ancestors knew how to celebrate New Year in style.

Come the end of 1882 and a Grand Fancy Dress Ball was held in the Assembly Rooms of the Royal Hotel that sits on the Esplanade, (the bow fronted building seen below in this old print.)

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‘The ballroom was very tastefully bedecked with flags, banners, and a variety of devices in evergreens, and presented a very pretty appearance from the manner i which it was illuminated through globes of coloured glass.’

The reporter goes on to describe the glittering scene that  evening in the ballroom.

‘A large proportion of the gentlemen wore the uniforms of either the army or the navy, whilst others appeared in Windsor uniform, and among the fancy dresses were those of various historical and other characters. Among the costumes assumed by the ladies were those of peasants of various nationalities, gipsies, fish girls of different countries, Shakespearian and other poetical characters, “snowflakes,” “frost,” “snow” “vivandiere,” “rose-bud,” “Grecian lady,” “Diana, the huntress queen,””Mary Queen of Scotts,” “Nancy Lee,” “butterfly,” &c.’

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An extremely thorough list follows the report naming all the dancers and their costumes, it’s a veritable who’s who of the local gentry and wealthier tradesmen of the town.

Many of those attending were military or naval officers and their families who were stationed in the area, (Weymouth being a busy naval port and military post at the time.)

There were even those ambassadors who manned the numerous foreign consoles that once lined the old quayside, a glimpse into the past of the towns importance due to vast trade with the wide world.

A few were visitors who came to town specifically for the evenings grand event, (just like the revellers of today.)

Young Miss Stanley Scott made her appearance dressed as Winter, Miss Hoey a Sicilian tambourine girl, her sister Annie came disguised as a Maltese fish girl, Mama Hoey decked herself out as Autumn.

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A certain Mr Armstrong was very bold, he was dressed as a man from the future. (one can only envisage what he wore…how he portrayed the future.)

Mr Wilson rather fancied himself as a South American gaucho….

Even celebrities of the day were mimicked…Miss Florence Armstrong arrived garbed as her heroine, popular authoress and illustrator of the day, Kate Greenaway.

Another famous fictional character tickled the fancy of young Miss Callaghan, she arrived dressed from head to dainty paws as Puss in Boots, her father William rather fancied himself as the Pirate King…

Mr Kinneer Hancock decided to slum it for the evening, he rather condescendingly donned the garb of ‘An every day young man.’

Entertaining the happy revellers at the ball was Mr J Robinson’s band from Dorchester with an assortment of lively airs, their sweet music sent even the sternest of men’s toes a tapping.

During the intervals in the dancing a singing quadrille amused the party goers with their cheerful ditties.

Seems like Weymouth was the party town of the South coast, the place to be, even as far back as the 19th century.

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And on that cheerful note I’d like to wish all my family, friends and readers a very Happy and Healthy New Year, and may next year bring you  many smiles and much laughter. 

 

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Who stole the Christmas dinner?…Weymouth 1862.

Well…that time of year is almost upon us again, when everyone scurries around filling their baskets and trollies with a seemingly bizarre amount of food and goodies.

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Perhaps it’ll be a good time to take a peek back into history, see what sort of Weymouth our ancestors were living in, the everyday lives of the townsfolk preparing for their Christmas.

The Victorian Christmas might not have been quite as overly commercial  as our present day one, but it was when the beginnings of what we now know as Christmas festivities began. This came about  mainly thanks to Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert who dragged a bloomin’ great tree into their home, (well, I don’t suppose he actually did the dragging,)

Our ancestors, like us, lived, loved, laughed and lost over this festive season.

According to the newspaper reports written over the season of good will life had it’s ups and down in the town then as it still does now.

Some folk had managed to get themselves into mischief, some business men had lost their living…one person even lost their Christmas dinner!

The Festive season of 1862 saw the streets of Weymouth filled with a sudden influx of soldiers. Sappers in their bright uniforms proudly paraded along the promenade and mingled with the shoppers in the busy streets and lanes of the town.

These were the  men of the 26th corps of Royal Engineers who arrived here under the command of their Captain,  Percy Smith, and his trusty Lieutenant, A A Jopp. They were about to embark upon a massive building project, that of the Nothe fort and the Coastal Defences over on Portland.

Marsh & Wright bathing tents 3

For the high and mighty of the area,  Luce’s Royal Hotel, facing the esplanade, held their popular annual Christmas Ball.

It was a time for the members of the local business community to get together for the glittering soiree. This is  when the wives and daughters would  primp and preen, decked out in their latest finery and fripperies from Weymouth’s best department stores, gossiping behind their feathered fans, fluttering their lashes at the attending officers in their magnificent uniforms.

The men standing confident in their dinner suits, legs apart, hands behind backs, discussing the latest money making schemes or practising their political manoeuvres for next years committees.

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However, there would be two  local business men and their families missing from that nights spectacular event, Henry Groves and Edwin Elias Brooking.

The first was thirty-seven-year old Henry who lived with his wife Sarah and their children, Sarah, Henry, Frederick and Olivia at no 10  Petticoat Lane (todays St Alban Street.)

The family ran a grocery, bakery and provisions merchants  business.

I say ran, because coming up to Christmas, it had gone into receivership, they were about to loose absolutely everything.

Within a couple of years Henry had picked himself up, dusted himself off and was up and running again as a general dealer, by this time the family had moved to no 4 New Town Place, ( as yet to discover where this was in old Weymouth, according to the census returns it ran off of Gordon Row at one time…answers on a postcard please.)

The second local  family about to face hardship this festive season was Edwin Elias Brooking, he resided at Victoria Villa with his wife Mary Ann and their  somewhat large brood, Sarah Ann, Emma, Edwin, Mary Ann, Eliza Ellen, Edith Ellen and George Frederick.

This family wasn’t originally from the area, they had only moved to Weymouth in the last 4 year period, it was where their youngest son George Frederick was born.

Edwin was a builder, in all probability he had moved here because of the work opportunities that arose from the vast ongoing building project of the coastal defences, particularly the Nothe.

However, the year 1862  saw work stopped at the Nothe fort due to certain events overseas, the American Civil War, (long story…and which will be explained in my forthcoming book about the Nothe.)

Orders had arrived in town from on high, the Committee of Defence had sent a telegram for all private contractors to down tools.

When work finally restarted at the beginning of 1863 it was to be by the hands and skills of the recently arrived Royal Engineers.

The closing of the work site must have been the death knell to Edwin’s vision of lucrative contracts and immense wealth. He suddenly found himself without a job and struggling to make ends meet. The dreaded threat of bankruptcy hung over their heads during the Christmas period, they were about to loose everything, even their furniture which had been valued..£148.

Edwin just about managed to scrape a living together in Weymouth until 1865, when he gave up and the family left town, they moved lock stock and builders barrel to Bermondsey in Surrey.

Someone slightly lower down the social scale and in all probability would never have been allowed anywhere near the hallowed doors of the grand Christmas Ball at Luce’s was Benjamin Ireland.

Benjamin was 46-year-old dealer, or ‘huckster’ as he was charmingly referred to in the papers. (A huckster being an itinerant trader.)

In 1861 he was temporarily residing with his wife, Jane, and their fair sized brood of boys and girls, Sarah, Jane, Henry, Benjamin, Francis, Julia, Rosa and finally Joseph,  in Maiden Street.

Come late December and Benjamin climbed on the proverbial Christmas wagon, never one to miss a trick, he found himself a stash of holly and was tramping the streets of the town with his old rickety wooden cart containing the prickly loot.

(It was considered very unlucky not to have holly in the house over this season…the prickles stopped witches and warlocks from being able to enter your house, of course.)

The Victorians decked their houses out with a ton of evergreens, including holly, ivy and mistletoe, this harks way way back to the pagan era and celebrating the ending of winter and the coming of Spring.

quIVER 1892 man lady decorating with wreaths

Someone else who never missed a trick was bright-eyed little 7-year-old Thomas Brooks, beloved son of local tailor George and his Mum Elizabeth from Waterloo cottage.

Having espied the man and his horse and cart passing by, full of holly covered in irresistible bright red berries, he followed closely behind. As the old cart jolted along on the rough roads, so bits and pieces fell of the back.

Thomas was in like  a shot, gathering up the escaping berries as they rolled down the road.

Spotting the cheeky young entrepreneur gathering up his blood red booty, Benjamin took umbrage. He ran to the back of the cart and raised his whip in the air, with one almighty swipe he lashed little Thomas across his face and back.

Benjamin Ireland found himself stood before the local magistrates charged with assault…for his quick temper and even quicker whip hand he was fined 1 shilling.

The last person to find himself in court over the Christmas period was one Richard Wentford, ( though I suspect that the court reported transcribed his name incorrectly!)

Richard Wentford was an officer in the mounted section of the Coast Guard, he was being charged with an assault upon Susan Attwooll who lived with her mother Elizabeth and siblings in a cottage at East Row up on Chapelhay.  Dad being a sailor was away at sea at the time of the incident.

Susan, aged 22, was at home on her own that lunchtime on Christmas day when a sudden hammering on the door startled her and in burst one almighty angry man.

An irate, or should I say extremely irate, Richard confronted the quivering Susan.

He was past fuming, he was besides himself with rage, a stream of vile filth erupted from his mouth.

According to him, her younger brother, James, had nicked his bloody prize chicken!

Raising his deep menacing voice in uncontrollable anger he threatened that “he would strip her in pieces.”

The vile words just kept on spewing forth, ( including  many unrepeatable expletives,)

He carried on to declare that “he would take the very womanhood out of her,” pointing out that “He was no d…..fool, and Weymouth people would not find a Barber in him.”

Just to make his point he upped the threats, “He was a devil, and had devil’s work to do, and would be the devil to her.”

Stood outside their house on that Christmas day was John Stone, a builder from Portland, (no surprises there then with that name.) He had seen the irate Richard march up the path and burst into the house, according to him all he could hear then was “language that was of the most disgusting character.”

Local policeman, P.C. Mahone arrived on scene and tried to calm things down, he ended up physically pushing the still angry and verbally abusive Richard out of the house, later telling the court that yes, the “Defendant was in a passion.”

It was also revealed in court that the man’s Christmas fowl was found soon afterwards, ( but a bit like the Monty Python’s infamous parrot sketch…this was bird was dead, dead, dead,) at which point he returned to the Susan’s home.

Having calmed down by now and realising that in all probability she had been ignorant of the facts, he had come to “humbly begged her pardon.”

As it so happens, it had been Susan’s younger brother who had done the dirty deed, James, aged 11, had lobbed a stone at the bird and killed it according to witnesses in court.

(One can only ponder over whether it had been an accident or a deliberate attempt to gather in Christmas dinner!)

One of James’s mates, George Doel, was called into the dock to snitch, (sorry, give evidence,) on his pal.

When the lad was questioned by the prosecuting council, Mr Tizard, if he knew the nature of an oath, his good old Mum rushed forward, “No Sir” she shouted, (she wasn’t going to have her son in trouble for telling lies .)

But George told the truth, yes his mate James had thrown the stone that killed the bird and then carried it off.

His honest evidence, Mr Tizard rather unkindly remarked, “placed him in a higher educational position than that assigned by his mother.”

For his belligerent outburst that christmas day Richard Wentford was fined 5 shillings and bound over to keep the peace for 6 moths.

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Just to finish our Christmas tales for Weymouth of 1862 I’ll throw in a weather report, (we Brits sure do love our weather!)

That year there was no Jack frost covering the scenery with glitter and light, or snow falling to the children’s delight, instead the winds howled and the rains lashed and according to the papers;

 “THE GALES;

the harbour Weymouth II

The wind indulged in numerous vagaries, and the prevailing fashion of dress with the ladies gave it scope for its fantastic display. We hear of one young lady who, as a salt would say, “carried too much sail,” she was obliged to be “towed” over the Bridge uniting Melcombe Regis with Weymouth.”

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A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE AND ALL.

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The travellers troubles……

One thing that I really enjoy about the ramblings in my blog is that I never quite know in what direction they’ll take me next.

I love the fact that I often have people contacted me from all over the world, some saying that I’ve written about a long lost ancestor of theirs or about a place they once lived, often these messages are accompanied by photos or personal snippets to go along with the tales.

Well, recently a lady got in touch with me with some interesting information about her husbands ancestors, who way back used to be Romany gypsies, but they had settled down in Weymouth around the turn of the century.

With her husbands permission, (thought I’d better check that first just in case!) this blog will tell a little of their fascinating story.

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Not knowing a great deal about the history of the Romany travelling community I decided to do a little digging first, and it was riveting the history our South West area has with the genuine travelling people.

http://www.gypsyjib.com/page/Romanies+In+Dorset+and+Hampshire(Andrew)

LRM02 The james family at Puddletown in 1899

 

(Picture kindly supplied by the Lyme Regis Museum; the James(or possibly Jones,) family camped at  Puddletown.)

I clearly recall from my childhood the swarthy skinned gypsy women when they used to be in town with their baskets of heather hawking in the street, my mum would always buy a bunch and stick it in a little pot on the windowsill convinced that it brought good luck.

Or the weather-worn men travelling men who would congregate at the Dorchester market for the animal sales days, crooked hazel stick in hand, their intelligent eyes fastened onto the horses for sale.

Anyway, I digress somewhat…back to the tale.

This story concerns the James family who ended up living in the row of stone cottages four doors down from the public house that is now called the New Inn at Littlemoor.

The father, Thomas,(actually christened Andrew Thomas,) was born in Shirley, Hampshire around 1855, his wife, Martha, was a cousin, she had been born at Tolpuddle or Blandford around the same time. (It is hard to sometimes pin down their exact place of birth because they travelled so often between places, and frequently their supposed birthplace changed from census to census.) They both grew up knowing a hard life on the road, travelling the lanes of the Victorian countryside in their wagons or vardos with their families and they would pitch in a group where ever they arrived that day.

In the 1871 census we find an unmarried Thomas pitched on Kinson Common, Dorset along with his parents, Dennis and Laura and with many others of the extended family. (Kinson was and still has a connection with the gipsy community.)

Within the next few years Thomas had married cousin Martha and a succession of children arrived, Louisa, Dennis, Andrew, Caroline, Laura, Leonard and Vardlow, their assorted places of birth in Dorset proof of their continued travelling life style.

By the time of the 1891 census the family were encamped on the village green at Fordington, in the vardo next to them was Thomas’s aged parents, the enumerator listing them as travellers.

LRM01 The James family at Puddletown in the 1890s

 

(Picture courtesy of Lyme Regis Museum.)

By the time their last child, a daughter named Elsie arrived in 1895, the family had left the road behind them, they had moved into a little stone built cottage in Littlemoor.

They might have given up  travelling the highways and byways of Dorset and Hampshire in their vardo but they hadn’t given up completely on the lifestyle.

The 1901 census enumerator lists them both as hawkers, ( he still describes them as gipsies in brackets in the occupation column.) Thomas and Martha’s sons were already in steady work, they were employed  in the nearby farms or in the building trades,  but Mum and Dad were reluctant to let go of their old traditions. They might well have been confined by the four solid walls of their cottage but every day they travelled forth far and wide to hawk their various wares in the towns and villages around.

Life must have been very interesting for their close neighbours, this colourful couple  and their lively antics causing no end of delicious gossip over those stone garden walls.

Living in the same terrace as the James’s were their next door neighbours, George and Jane Guppy on one side with their two young daughters and on the other side were Isaac and Mary Powell and their family of 3 boys and a girl.

Around the same time the family moved in so appeared in the newspapers one of many frequent sensational stories of their somewhat dubious doings.

On a Tuesday, the 24th September 1895, Thomas and Martha stepped outside into the fresh morning air, they were on their way into Weymouth where Martha would ply her trade up and down the streets of the town, with her trusty old wicker basket slung on her arm, Martha would be selling what she could to bring in a much-needed penny or two to the household.

But this was going to be no ordinary day for either of them…one would end up seriously injured, and the other behind locked doors.

The couple waited on the platform for the train at Upwey station, boarded it and made for Weymouth.

Once in town, Thomas headed for the nearest watering hole while Martha went about her business.

womn street

After tramping the streets around town for a few hours and come lunch time, Martha went to meet Thomas at the public house where he had installed himself for the duration. He was not in a good mood it seems,  he demanded of Martha some of her hard-earned coins from her mornings travels, but she far was too slow in handing them over for his liking.

With that an irate Thomas raised his stick and beat her over the head with it.

By the time the  somewhat well-inebriated couple had finished for the day in Weymouth they staggered their way back to the  station where they boarded the 3.30 train on their way  back to Upwey.

Also in their carriage  was Thomas’ mother, Laura James, who by all accounts was not in any less-inebriated  state than the other two.

What happened on that fateful train journey appeared as sensational headlines in the papers a couple of days later.

‘Western Gazette 27 September 1895; A WOMAN FOUND INSENSIBLE.’

According to the lengthy news report, Edward Hansford a GWR packer had been busy working on the line between Lawton Bridge and Two Mile Copse on that Tuesday afternoon when he came across  the seemingly  lifeless body of a woman lying besides the line .

The guard on the GW train that had left Weymouth at 3.32 had also reported seeing a woman fall out of the moving train onto the line.

On reaching Upwey, the guard informed the station master, 42-year-old Mr Richard Harry Dyke, who then proceeded back down the line and found the still form  and a flustered Mr Hansford attending it.

But the limp form wasn’t completely lifeless, a strange gurgling noise was emitting from it, the station master quickly turned her over and a thick stream of congealed blood drained from her mouth. Richard Dyke had literally saved her life. The victim, which was our Martha, had been virtually drowning on the blood pouring from a large wound on her head into her mouth.

By now, a flustered Thomas had  arrived on scene, having jumped from the train before it had even pulled into Upwey station, he had raced all the way back down the track to where his wife Martha laid, unconscious, battered, bruised and bloodied.

When he was asked what happened, Thomas quickly muttered that  his wife had had said something about going to Southampton, and that was that, she was out the door before he could do anything!

Martha’s  pale and limp form was placed upon a hastily fetched wicker hurdle and the concerned parties then conveyed it to her house at Littlemoor, which was about a mile away.

You can only imagine the neighbours surprise when they saw the gang of men and their strange baggage coming along the road and make their way into the cottage.

Chins must have wagged for Britain.

Dr Pridham was sent for.

Things didn’t look too good for Martha.

For the next four hours she didn’t stir, she was totally out of it, deeply unconscious .

Of course, before long the long arm of the law were knocking on the James’ door, Segeant Legg and P.C. Carter entered the cottage.

Carter sternly confronted the still drink-befuddled and  flustered Thomas, “James, I wish to see your wife.”

Thomas could do very little else but allow them entry, he sulkily replied “All right, she is upstairs.”

They climbed the narrow, creaky wooden stairs up to the bedroom where Martha was laid, she was being being tended to by one of her neighbours, Catherine, from the Guppy family next door.

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Martha, having at last regained conciousness, managed to give her statement to the policeman, she was accusing her wayward husband of virtually beating out of the carriage door. “I, Marth James, saith I am the wife of Thomas James and reside with him at Littlemoor. We get our living by hawking. On tuesday the 24th Sep, I and my husband went to Weymouth. I hawked while he walked about. He asked me for some money while we were there, and because I would not give him some at once he struck me across the head with a stick. We came back to Upwey by the 3.30 p.m. train. Mrs Dennis James, my husband’s mother, got into the same carraige with us. As soon as we were in the carriage my husband began abusing me, and struck me down on the seat. I stood up, and he struck me again up against the door, and by some means it opened. I know I did not open it. I do not remember anything more until I found myself home in bed.”

Being unable to read or write, when she’d finished Martha slowly and painfully  raised her head from her bed and signed her damning statement with a simple cross.

Thomas was then summonsed to the bedroom where his battered wife laid before him, the charges were read out to him by P.C. Carter, “You wife has made a statement respecting you, which I have taken down, and which I will read to you.”

When  Carter had read out the charges to Thomas, his reply,  not surprisingly, was a complete denial,  in a very coarse manner he snapped “Then I must say it is a lie then”

But of course, there was only one place he was going, that was heading for the nearest lock-up. A fiercely protesting Thomas was led out of the cottage door by the two policemen.

However, when the case finally came before the local courts not everything was quite as it had at first seemed.

Evidence was produced that put doubt on Martha’s story and showed Thomas in a slightly better light, (not that beating his wife over the head with a stick could ever be described as ‘better.’)

The attending doctor at the time of the incident, Dr Pridham,  said when he went to visit Martha at her home, she was indeed deeply unconscious but he rather thought a lot of that was down to  Martha having imbibed far too much drink that day.

In the carriage next to the fiercely feuding James family had been three servants on their way back from Weymouth, they were also heading for the Upwey station.

One of them, Elizabeth Lane, was a  servant in Nottington House. She had seen something, which she took to be a coat, fall out past their carriage window. Curiosity getting the better of her, Elizabeth got up, looked out of window and saw the door of the next carriage open and someone stood at door waving their hand and shouting.

maid service 1887

 

Mary Woodrow, a second servant also from the adjoining carriage added her statement. All three had heard a right old commotion going on from that carriage, someone had been having one hell of an argument.

Thomas’ mother’s statement was read out in court, not that it had much validity, she couldn’t appear in person that day because she was too intoxicated!

According to her written words Martha had opened door herself and sat down on the floor, rolled back then fell out the door. Just to sort of statement you might expect from a mother trying to protect her precious son from a serious charge of attempted murder…that is were it not for corroborating evidence from an independent source.

Probably the most damning evidence of all as far as Martha was concerned was that of 32-year-old James Bulley, the brakesman in charge of train. He claimed that he had seen a hand projecting out from the carriage window, it then turning the handle of the door, at which point the door opened and a woman jumped from the train.

Then Martha herself took to the stand, relaying her version of those days events.

She said about 1 o’clock that fateful day she had gone to an underground public house by the Quay where she had met her husband Thomas. He asked her for money but because she hadn’t been quick enough in handing it over, he’d lost his temper and proceeded to bash her over the head with his stick, at this point she grabbed the coins out of her pocket and chucked them at him.

Not overly pleased with his wife’s contrary actions, he had growled between his gritted teeth that “He would swing for her.”

Instead, he threw her basket at her and sent her on her way to earn some more money, but Martha’s lucky heather obviously wasn’t up to its magical scratch that day, her good luck had run out…she didn’t earn a further penny.

The couple met again later at the station, Martha penniless and Thomas in a bad mood. Once they had climbed into their carriage, an irate Thomas had pushed her down hard into the seat, yelling at his weary wife“Sit down there.” An aggrieved Martha demanded to know what was wrong, “You have been quarreling with me all day;what is the matter with you?”

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She recalled the violent row in the carriage, and Thomas attacking her again and again with his stick, but very little else until she awoke and found herself back in her own home feeling battered and bruised and very sorry for herself.

When she woke in her bed, Thomas had brought her up a strong drink of rum and beer which she pushed away saying she couldn’t face drinking it. With that Thomas’ anger erupted again, he shoved her hard in the chest and according to Martha he shouted at her that ” he wished he had picked me up dead.”

Martha also told the magistrates that Thomas used to beat her often with his stick which  sometimes causing her  to go into fits.

When she was questioned about the possibility of her having leapt from the train of her own free will, (fuelled by alcoholic stupor,) supposedly to go and see her missing daughter, she quickly and vehemently denied that.

Martha claimed she didn’t even know if her daughter was in Southampton, she had walked out of  the family home about 12 months ago…in fact, so unbothered by her sudden disappearance was she that she had almost forgotten her by now!

The case of Grievous Bodily Harm against Martha by her husband was considered serious enough to be referred up to the Dorset County Assizes.

When the County Court sat at their next session, they went through the list of cases to be heard. Arriving upon the James’ case, it was decided in their infinite wisdom that there was insufficient evidence to bring it before the courts.

Yes, Thomas had not been the most affable of men where his wife was concerned, but there was very little evidence to prove that he had in fact deliberately attempted to harm her by throwing her out of the moving carriage.

In fact the evidence of the guardsman pointed to the contrary. Consequently the serious charges of Grievous Bodily Harm upon Martha by Thomas were discharged. He was a free man…for now!

But poor old Martha’s woes weren’t to end there. Only a few months later and she was at the receiving end of Thomas’s alcohol fuelled anger again.

One evening in the June of 1896 she had retired to her bed. For whatever reason a drunken and angry Thomas had burst into the room and set about her in a vicious manner. He lunged at her, squeezing his hands tightly around her throat, nearly throttling the very life out of her. His hot, fetid breath in her face as he declared he would do for her and that he would swing for her “in the same way as two men had swung on Tuesday morning.” 

Finally managing to break from Thomas’ grasp and make her escape, Martha hurriedly barricaded herself in the next bedroom.

The following morning, while Thomas still slept, she slipped out of her cottage and made her way to the nearest police station, she couldn’t put up with this much more. A very determined Martha was going to make her errant husband pay for his misdeeds.

So once again, Thomas found himself arrested, thrown into jail and then hauled before the magistrates charged with violent assault and the attempted murder of his wife.

This time he didn’t escape so lightly, for his sins he was sentenced to one month prison with hard labour.

Mind you, Martha wasn’t exactly whiter than white, she too had encountered the courts wrath on a few occasions.

True to traditional gipsy folklore she pedalled her wares wherever the road took her, selling bunches of heather for good luck or telling fortunes to the unsuspecting females who hung on her every word.

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In September of 1891 she was before the police courts in Salisbury charged with stealing a silver brooch of the value of 2s, the property of Louisa Bragg of 8 Egerton Place, Windsor Road, Fisherton.

Martha had knocked on the door of the house and offered the woman some of the  wares from her trusty basket.

When the lady refused to buy anything from her, Martha then induced her to part with a few random old unwanted items, a brooch, jacket, pillow case and other bits and pieces of clothing, with the promise that she could foretell her fortune.

Getting well into her story-telling stride Martha declared that she was one of the mysterious and select Seven Sisters, she held such strong powers that she  could work her magical charm on the lady’s wedding ring, promising her that she would be happy for ever after.

All the good lady had to do was to place a simple glass of water on the mantle-shelf and if she got up at 4 o’clock in the morning and peered into it she would see the features of her husband.

The magistrate, not surprisingly, was not quite so taken in with Martha’s mystical powers, or worried by any hideous hexes she may inflict upon him, he committed her to 6 weeks in prison.

In December of 1915 Martha found herself before the Weymouth courts again. This time accused of “Telling Fake fortunes and Selling Dragon’s Blood.”

Martha, now in her 60’s, was still up to her old tricks.

She was in the habit of going into the seed shop of Mr Courtenay in Bond Street to purchase bits and pieces. A young girl who worked behind the counter had suddenly found herself under Martha’s steely gaze and was soon pulled into Martha’s mystical world of spells and magic.

After a few months of listening to Martha’s mutterings for which she paid dearly, the frightened girl had confessed her fears to the shop keeper and the police informed.

On her next visit, the shop bell rang out as Martha made her way into the store, the young assistant was waiting nervously behind the counter, she was beginning to feel very silly now having been taken in all this time.

Martha purchased her goods and turned her attention to the young girl. “How is your young man? You are looking better.” 

Then looking around carefully to see who was listening she sidled up to the girl and whispered “You have got a silver coin in your pocket?” the girl nodded, a sixpence she admitted, “That will do, hand it to me” Martha brusquely replied.

Once the coin had been handed over, Martha spat on girls hand and passed the silver coin over it. With that ‘magical charm’ not only came the promise of a long and happy marriage to her beau but also the great delights of her own prosperous business to look forwards to.

Her parting shot to the girl as she left the shop was, “God Almighty bless you and good luck.”

She might not have been quite so quick to bless the assistant had she known that a certain P.C. Pitman was concealed inside the shop to witness this exchange of money and ‘magic.’

Hauled before the magistrates Martha’s once mysterious magical methods were revealed for all and sundry to hear, bringing forth a great deal of mirth and laughter from those disbelievers attending the lively session.

The shop assistant revealed that she had only handed over her money because she was so scared of her, what the gipsy would do to her if she didn’t give her the silver when asked for, she didn’t want no bad luck in her life. So far, over the last few weeks, she had given Martha nearly a sovereign of her hard earned money.

No wonder Martha was a frequent visitor to the shop, it had become a very lucrative stop.

The girl continued her tale of woe. She said that at one stage Martha had handed her a tiny, (but very expensive…“half a crown that cost me!”) bottle containing a strange red liquid. Dragon’s Blood Martha firmly assured her, with great powers.

The girl was told to tip just three drops of this magical blood onto a piece of paper  when it was a new moon, which she did… and when it was a full moon she was given instructions to burn it.

Those listening to the young girl as she carefully explained the spell couldn’t contain their mirth.

When asked if she had indeed “had good luck ever since?” she innocently replied “I do not know, I did not burn the paper.” 

Even the Magistrates Clerk couldn’t resist gently mocking the witness “She did not complete the process, so that was not giving the charm a fair chance,” which brought forth peals of laughter.

When it was Martha’s turn to stand in the box, she of course had a perfectly logical explanation for everything.

It was purely out of the kindness of her own sweet heart that she had told  the young girl about her beau coming back to marry her, it was just to keep the her happy.

The same way that the money the girl handed her was only from kindness, she had freely given it to her for a drink…nothing at all to do with fortune telling.

As for the Dragon’s Blood?…she knew nothing about that, hadn’t even seen it before!

Martha received a proverbial slap on the wrist, a fine and a dire warning that if she appeared in the courts again she would find herself in serious trouble.

I doubt whether either old Thomas or Martha could have completely given up on their gipsy roots, their old way of life. So ingrained in their family history from centuries of a life on the road and the stories told from generation to generation.

Martha passed away  in 1924 and Thomas followed in 1931, both are buried at St Nicholas church Broadwey.

So a way of travelling life passes into history, a few tales of these colourful old characters of the open road all that remains of their fascinating story. *********************************************************************** Pictures of the James, (or possible Jones,) family while on the road kindly leant by the Lyme Regis Museum Archives.

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