For Centuries, right up to the Victorian era and beyond, women in Great Britain had been widely regarded as second class citizens. This attitude prevailed across all social classes but for working class women, the impact was particularly bad
Domestic violence or wife beating as it was largely termed in the 19th Century, brought untold pain and misery for those affected. Working class women, unlike women from other social classes, had little chance of escaping a violent husband or partner. The fear of becoming homeless and destitute in an uncaring society and being driven to the workhouse, was often the deciding factor in remaining with an abusive partner.
Violence perpetrated by men against women was often the product of drunkenness, poverty, or a sense of hopelessness, but however heinous an act, the victims seldom received the protection from the law they deserved in a male dominated society.
Working class women in Preston, as in other towns and cities throughout the country continued to suffer horrendous domestic abuse throughout the Victorian era. Despite such acts of violence being reported on a regular basis, many years would pass before male attitudes towards this dreadful criminal activity changed sufficiently for the better. A few examples of this dreadful form of violence are listed here.
Drunken Man Assaults his Wife
Nathan Birchall, the keeper of a notorious house, the Grapes Inn, St John’s St, Preston, was summoned by his wife for a gross assault committed on her. The complainant, who was disabled, stated that her husband came home drunk and knocked her down. She got up and went to her sister’s house but her husband followed her and again assaulted her. The next morning when she returned home Nathan Birchall thrashed her with a stick. The Police stated the man was of bad character and the Bench, who said Birchall had shown himself to be an inhuman monster, fined him 40 shillings, or in default, to be imprisoned for one month in the House of Correction. (PC Oct’10th 1857)
Persistent Wife Beater
Thomas Occleshaw (Eccleshaw) was a Preston man with twenty one previous convictions for drunkenness, disorderly conduct and abusing his wife. He was brought before the Bench on April 16th 1858, charged with thrashing his wife while in a state on intoxification. As the poor dishevelled looking woman gave evidence, she described how on the night in question her husband swore he would take her and her children’s lives. He said if ever he was sent to prison again, he would get a pistol and shoot the whole family.
Mrs Occleshaw went to bed with her children but had not been there long when her husband dragged her out, almost threw her downstairs and turned her outdoors. She sought refuge from him in a neighbour’s house but he followed her out into the street and again abused her. Besides continually ill treating his wife, Occleshaw was also in the habit of selling and pawning items from the house and breaking windows.
The Chairman of the Bench remarked that the defendant had been in prison for over half of his entire life. He was ordered to enter into recognizance of £20 and find two sureties of £10 each, or in default, to be committed to the House of Correction for three months. (PC April 17TH 1858)
Astonishingly, men who committed these violent acts, were in numerous cases deemed by the Courts, to have “been provoked” by the victim and would thus receive much more lenient sentences.
Wife Beaten Senseless
In October 1861, John Hedley, a Hawker, was brought before the court charged with committing a brutal assault on his wife.
A witness, William Stubbs of Hanover St gave evidence how he was in a house in Addison’s Yard on the evening in question, along with the defendant and his wife. Stubbs recalled how Mrs Hedley appeared very drunk and was told by her husband to go to bed. She refused and left the house, only to return in an even worse drunken state. As soon as Hedley saw her he got hold of a pair of metal tongs and struck her on the back of the head. She fell to the ground bleeding heavily.
Another witness named Gibbons, said that shortly after 10.00 pm in the evening he heard screams coming from a house in Addison’s Yard. On going there he found Mrs Hedley laid out on the floor, completely senseless and covered in blood with a severe wound to the head. A Doctor was sent for who on arrival dressed the wound
In giving evidence Mrs Hedley blamed herself for what had happened. She insisted that her husband had never hit her before and that she had provoked him into doing it.
Even though the level of violence used was of a serious nature, which would normally attract a prison sentence of six months or more, the Bench took the opinion that provocation had been a major factor. A sentence of one month’s imprisonment with hard labour was handed to Mr Hedley. (PC Oct 16th 1861)
In September 1861, a young man, Joseph Hugh Shields was charged with having committed a most brutal assault on his wife Bridget Shields. Owing to the injuries she received she was unable to appear in court to give evidence at the initial hearing. Mr Edwin Moore, Surgeon, said how he had been called in to attend to the prisoner’s wife. She was much hurt, apparently from very savage kicks and blows. Her left eye had been laid open and she had lost a deal of blood from wounds to her thighs and legs.
Ann Blackburn said that she saw the disturbance between the prisoner and his wife. She remonstrated with him about his conduct but in return received a barrage of threats. At the second court appearance Joseph Shields said at the time of the incident his wife had been drinking, which had annoyed him. He told the court he was a painter by trade and would often spend time away from home working. When he returned, claimed Shields, he would often find his tools and sometimes items of furniture had been pawned to pay for his wife’s drinking habit. On this occasion he became excited and struck and kicked her on different parts of her body. He felt very sorry for what he had done.
The Bench reported that while they could feel for the man, they were bound to punish him. It was emphasised that had it not been for the provocation he had received, a much more heavier punishment would have been imposed. Taking everything into consideration the Bench ordered Joseph Shields to be sent to the House of Correction for one month.(PC Sept’ 11th & 14th 1861)
Wife Beaten with Large Piece of Wood
During September 1861 a man named James Caton was charged with mistreating his wife in a horrific manner. Mrs Caton in evidence, stated how on the evening of September 7th 1861 her husband asked her to get ready and accompany him somewhere as yet not made clear to her. He then went out himself but returned a short time later to find her not quite ready. Looking rather annoyed with her he again left the house. Soon after she went out and spotted him in nearby Church St with another woman. When Caton saw his wife he slipped into another street and disappeared out of sight.
At about 5.00 am the following morning James Caton returned home and commenced beating his wife with a thick piece of wood. She managed to get out of bed and ran out of the back door into the lobby and whilst there he knocked her down, kicked her and began beating her again with the piece of wood. The assault was witnessed by a woman named Mrs Westray. James Caton was sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour. (PC Sept’ 14th 1861)
Violent Husband Attacks Wife
A man named Robert Batty was apprehended under a warrant charging him with committing a violent assault upon his wife Dorothy Batty on February 13th 1871. Mrs Batty told the court how on the afternoon of the day named, her husband kicked and struck her. He later went out but in the evening he returned home about 11.00 pm, commenced swearing at her and threatening her with violence.
While she was sat in a rocking chair with a young child, he came up from behind and pulled the chair over. Batty then threw his wife out of the house and while she sat on the door step he kicked both his wife and the child. Robert Batty had previously been imprisoned for various offences including wife beating and in this instance was committed to the House of Correction for two calendar months. (PC Feb’ 18th 1871)
Occasionally incidents of domestic violence led to the much more serious offence of murder
Murderous Attack on Woman in Turks Head Yard, Preston
John Banks was a 34 year old labourer who cohabited with a woman named Ann Gilligan 29, the wife of a soldier and a prostitute. They occupied a room in a house in Turks Head Yard, off Church St, Preston. On the afternoon of June 4th 1866 Banks returned home from work and began drinking the contents of a barrel of ale. The ale which was to be shared among the occupants of the house had either been purchased for free or at a very cheap price, due to it going sour. Later that evening Banks and Gilligan went to the Arkwright Arms in Stoneygate, where they both shared a quantity of ale.
Banks fell asleep for a short while but upon waking accused Ann Gilligan of removing three shillings from his pocket, which she denied. He then hit her on the head with his fist and knocked her to the floor. As she lay on the ground Banks began kicking her in the side with his clog shoes. As another customer in the pub remonstrated with Banks, Ann Gilligan got to her feet but was once again struck about the head. About 11.30 pm in the evening the couple left for home. A woman living about 100 yards from the Arkwright Arms witnessed Banks repeatedly kicking Gilligan, who was shouting out, “Oh Jack, I havn’t got it”
Another eye witness living in nearby Library St recalled seeing Gilligan on the ground being kicked by Banks. She called him a bully but hurried away as Banks threatened her. Annie Lawrenson was a single woman living in Turks Head Yard who shared a room in the same house as Banks and Gilligan. In the early hours of the morning of June 5th, she heard Gilligan cry out her name. After getting out of bed and going downstairs she found Gilligan lying on her back outside the house with Banks who was kicking her. She tried to intervene and lift her up but found her to heavy. Banks then took hold underneath the arms, dragged her into the house and threw her to the floor. He kicked her in the stomach and side and also hit her on the side of the head with a mallet.
Annie Lawrenson rushed out of the house to try and find a policeman but without success and upon returning found Ann Gilligan bleeding from the head and lying in a pool of blood. Banks was still kicking the poor woman and even jumped upon her body twice. He then grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to the top of the stairs, before throwing her down them again. Annie Lawrenson cried out,
“For god’s sake Jack are you going to murder her” ? He replied, “Yes I will if she does not behave herself. She has taken three shillings out of my pocket.”
Eventually Banks went to bed while Ann Gilligan lay down on some straw which also served as a bed. At about 11.00 am in the morning Ann Gilligan’s condition deteriorated. Mr Ridley a medical officer at the workhouse was summoned to Turks Head Yard, where he discovered her lying on the straw in the corner of the bedroom. Her face and hands were covered in blood and bruises and she complained of great pain in the stomach. She could not even bear the Doctor to touch her. Mr Ridley suspected internal injuries and immediately ordered her to be removed to the workhouse. Later that evening Anne Gilligan died of her injuries. She had literally been kicked to death.
John Banks was soon apprehended and following a brief appearance before the court, was charged with wilful murder. He was committed to take his trial at the forthcoming Lancaster Assizes. On July 26th 1866 John Banks stood in the dock at Lancaster where he pleaded not guilty to a charge of “Wilful murder”. As the trial proceeded a deposition made by the deceased shortly before she died and written down by Thomas Loy, Assistant Clerk to the Borough Magistrates was read out to the court, which said,
I , Ann Gilligan of Turks Head Yard in the Borough of Preston in the County of Lancaster, wife of Thomas Gilligan, do solemly and sincerely declare as follows,
Last night we had been in a public house. I mean John Banks and me. He is in the habit of always fighting and “licking” me. We were coming home both together. He said he lost some money out of his pocket. I said, “I know nothing about it”. He then knocked me down two or three times. He then took me by the hair of the head and dragged me upstairs and threw me downstairs and then he came down. I was laid moaning and then he jumped on me with his feet. He kicked me and thumped me over the face. I am all black on my neck and arms. He was at it nearly an hour. I had not done anything to him. I was not sober. I had had something to drink. He was not sober. He had had something to drink. I have been in great pain ever since the occurrence took place and I feel myself getting worse. I do not think I shall recover from my injuries. I think I shall die from the injuries I have received. I have lived with Banks close on twelve months. X The mark of Ann Gilligan.
After hearing all the evidence from a number of witnesses, the jury took just ten minutes to record a verdict of Guilty of Wilful murder. The judge, upon hearing the verdict, passed the death sentence on Banks and he was led away to await execution.
Following a substantial petition for clemency to the Home Secretary on the grounds of the Absence of Premeditation, John Banks was to cheat the hangman’s noose as the death sentence was commuted to Penal Servitude for life (PC June 9th, July 28th & Aug’ 11th 1866)
Brutal Wife Killing Case in Preston
A terrible tragedy occurred on the afternoon of Saturday July 15th 1876 that led to the death of a young woman in Gradwell St, off Marsh Lane ,Preston. Margaret Mckearney aged 31, was the mother of six children, the youngest being just three months old. Her husband Andrew McKearney, a bricksetters labourer, had apparently threatened to kill his wife on the morning of the 15th July and upon returning home in the afternoon began quarrelling with her.
As Mrs McKearney began frying some meat on the fire her husband demanded she hand him the knife she had in her hand. When she refused he pushed her and she fell over a stool on the floor. Mc Kearney then grabbed hold of her to pick her up and kicked her in the abdomen while shouting, “Get up”.Margaret McKearney then cried out to her daughter who was in the back kitchen nursing the baby, saying, “Oh Margaret Ann, Margaret Ann, he has killed me”.
Shortly afterwards a neighbour named Jane Smith entered the house to return a shawl. She found Margaret McKearney stood in the kitchen crying with blood flowing freely from her. Smith turned to the husband and said, “Andy, what have you been doing”, to which he replied, “She aggravated me to do it”.Jane Smith then accompanied Margaret McKearney to the back yard and remained with her for half an hour until she died just as a Doctor and Police constable arrived at the house. The Police immediately began the hunt for Andrew McKearney, who witnesses said was spotted heading down South Meadow Lane in the direction of the river. After a thorough search of the area, McKearney was discovered hiding in a stable, where he was arrested for the slaying of his wife.
As McKearney was brought before the Magistrates the following Tuesday, his previous record for violence against his poor wife was revealed to the court. He was summoned for assaulting her in April 1873 and June 1875 but absconded both times. A further assault against his wife in November 1875 led to him being apprehended but he escaped punishment and was simply instructed to pay costs.
At the inquest into the death of Margaret McKearney, her own father told the jury how he had often witnessed his daughter being hit, kicked and abused by her husband.
Andrew McKearney was charged with Manslaughter and taken by train to Kirkdale Gaol, Liverpool. As the body of Margaret McKearney was laid to rest, a large and orderly group of people congregated and followed the funeral procession from the mortuary in Tithebarn St to the cemetery. She was regarded as a hard working industrious woman who was much respected by those who knew her.
At the Liverpool Assizes Andrew McKearney pleaded guilty to the Manslaughter of his wife Margaret McKearney. Mr Justice Lindley agreed with the defence QC that the fatal injury could have been sustained as she fell over the stool when pushed. Despite Andrew McKearney’s dreadful previous record of violence against his poor wife, he was sentenced to just 15 months imprisonment. (PC July 22nd & 29th 1876)
Murderous Assault on a Wife in Preston
William and Alice Kirby were a married couple living in Preston, who between them had seven children. By 1880 as a consequence of William Kirby’s reluctance to find work for several years past and instead relying on three working children to bring in the family income, Alice had separated from William. She had found lodgings in Spa Rd, Preston and was managing to support herself and four youngest children, who accompanied her to their new home.
On the morning of June 10th 1880 William Kirby entered the house in Spa Rd where his wife was living. He confronted her saying, “Now I have got hold of you”. He repeatedly asked her to come back to live with him but she steadfastly refused. An enraged William Kirby seized a heavy poker from the fireplace and without any provocation at all, began to mercilessly strike her about the head with it. Alice managed to escape by fleeing into the kitchen and bolting the door.
Kirby soon found a large coal hammer which he used to smash the door down. After gaining entry to the kitchen, he grabbed his terrified wife by the hair with one hand, while aiming hammer blows at her head with the other. The shrieking and cries of poor Alice Kirby and an elderly woman named Betty Miller who also lived at the house, soon attracted a number of concerned neighbours, who succeeded in restraining William Kirby.
By this time Alice was saturated with blood coming from head wounds. One of the wounds was so severe that on later inspection it was found to have penetrated to the skull bone. Those at the scene said there was such a presence of blood that it was coming out from under the door. William Kirby fled the scene but was later discovered and arrested at the house of his sister in Raglan St. He was brought before the Preston Quarter Sessions Court on June 30th 1880, where he was sentenced to five years Penal Servitude.
Despite the horrific injuries she received, Alice Kirby made a full recovery. (PC June 12th, 19th, & July 3rd 1880)