Saturday, 1 May 2010

A few days in June 1856

Well, here goes for my first ever blog! I've been inspired by reading the various genealogy blogs around to add my little bit about family details I've found. Particular inspiration came from JamaGenie of the Saturday's Child blog who has linked me to previously unknown Beckett family details over the last few months.

I am starting off with an example of the amazing way the internet comes up with odd snapshots into the lives of our ancestors. Like many other people I occasionally google random ancestor names and places in the hope that something relevant comes up. This time I tried the name "William Moore", my g-g-g-grandfather, and "Timber Hill" where he lived in Melton Mowbray in the mid 1800s. Part way down the page was an entry which sounded very promising "WILLIAM MOORE will prove as follows: I am a Baker residing at Melton Mowbray...".

The link led me to a copy of the Leicestershire Summer Assizes for 1856 and a murder trial brief for the case against William Brown, alias Peppermint Billy. There were pages of witness statements from everyone involved in the case, along with a statement from the accused. Among the witnesses was my William who apparently had known the accused as they were both from Scalford, a local village.

William Brown had recently returned from Van Dieman's Land having been transported there for a ten year year sentence. He had, according to witnesses, sworn to murder the person who had sent him there, and it appears that following a brief stay with his brother John and his wife Ann in Leicester (where he seems to have spent rather too much of his time with his sister-in-law!), that is what he did.

On arriving in Scalford his first action appears to have been to search out my g-g-g-g-grandmother, Amy Moore, who by that time was widowed and working as a servant at the Lodge. He found her and asked after her children, and upon discovering that William was living in Timber Hill and keeping a Bakehouse he said that he would go and visit him. On his way he seems to have stopped off at every local house and asked whether anyone kept the local gatekeeper company at night.

It is not clear from William Moore's statement how pleased he was when returning home one evening to see what appeared to be an old friend, but he gave him some supper anyway. The next day William Brown turned up at the house again and was given breakfast before leaving with Henry Reed, the servant of my William. He then spent the day assisting Reed with some work in the fields before coming back to be fed supper and given one shilling and three halfpence in an effort by my ancestor to get rid of him.

William Brown then seems to have returned to the field where he had been working that day and spent some time resting in a Hovel in the field before walking through the mown grass towards the Thorpe Road Toll Bar, where he then murdered the gatekeeper, Edward Woodcock and his grandson, James.

Justice seems to have followed pretty swiftly as Brown was arrested a couple of days later, and then tried and executed the following month.

So far I've tried in vain to find details of Brown's original trial where he was deported to see if there was any mention of Edward Woodcock's involvement.

On a more cheery note, I also discovered that this very Toll Gate was also part of the origins of the phrase "painting the town red". Back in April 1837 the Marquis of Waterford and some fo his friends returned back at the tollgate at Thorpe End after a day at the local races. The toll keeper, whose name is sadly not known, would quite rightly not let them back into town until they had paid the proper tolls. The young men took exception to this and then nailed the toll keeper into his house and proceeded to paint the toll gates red.

The drunken crowd then carried on through the town painting various other things red, culminating the in the Marquis himself being lifted up in order to paint the statue of a swan outside a local hostelry red as well When the local police tried to stop the madness they were also painted!

The Marquis later, once sober, was made to pay for the damage done and the phrase has remained in use ever since.

Amazing what you can find on the internet!


  1. Welcome to the genealogy blogging community. Look forward to reading all about your family history.

  2. Thanks, Gini, I'm very nervous about this - I think this post took all day!

  3. i decided to follow you. I have Roberts family in my Iowa families. Also cause you have a nice blog in the making.

  4. Thanks, rootdigger. If your Iowa Roberts ever go back to Lincolnshire let me know!

  5. Nicola, both stories are fascinating! I had no idea of the origin of "painting the town red"! As for an account of Wm Brown's original trial, the local historical society is probably your best bet.

  6. Nicola, welcome to geneabloggers! Nice start, I really enjoyed your first post!

  7. Enjoyed reading this. Edward Woodcock is my 5th great-grandfather.