Summoned for Permitting Drunkenness

Henry Mills was born in Meifod, Mongomeryshire in 1822 but relocated to Toxteth Park with his family when he was only a child. After his marriage, in 1845, to Sarah Ingram, he settled in Mill Street where he became a baker and flour dealer. In about 1862, he decided upon a change of occupation and became aThe Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth. licensed victualler, turning his flour shop into a public house – the Great Eastern.

The Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth.

Business was obviously good, as by 1868, Henry Mills had relocated to much larger premises – also called the Great Eastern – in New Ferry. The Great Eastern Hotel in New Ferry, named after the ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was built in 1862 but only really came into its own after Henry Mills became landlord. Because of its location, the hotel became popular with tourists and visitors who had crossed the Mersey on the ferry. It also boasted picnic grounds, a 1000-seater tea room and a ballroom.

On Good Friday in 1876, at 3pm, Sergeant Perry and other police officers visited the Great Eastern where they witnessed a number of people in the grounds clearly under the influence of alcohol and staggering around.

The Great Eastern, New Ferry, 1912.

The Great Eastern, New Ferry, 1912.

Although it was an offence, it became apparent that Mills and his staff were still serving liquor to these cusomers despite their inebriated state. The police officers brought this to the attention of Henry Mills who promised that he would stop the tap and only serve them ginger beer.

At 5,30pm, Sergeant Perry again visited the Great Eastern only to find that the hotel was in a state of great disorder. There were five or six simultaneous fights occurring and the people in the grounds were still being served with alcohol. This was, again, brought to the attention of Mills.

An hour later, at 6.30pm, the sergeant returned only to find things had got worse as there were now women lying in the grounds of the hotel, vomiting. The alcohol was still being sold. By 8.30pm, most had moved out of the hotel grounds but a group of drunken people were discovered in the vaults, being served by waiters. One man, glass in hand, couldn’t even stand!

As a result, Henry Mills was summoned to court where he faced charges of permitting drunkenness and riotous conduct on his premises. Police officers giving evidence spoke of disorder from 3-9pm with fighting and drunkenness almost continual. The defence argued that Henry Mills had given strict orders that no drunk person should be supplied with alcohol and precautions were taken to ensure that these orders were carried out. Witnesses were called who supported the argument of the defence.

Advertisement for the Great Eastern, New Ferry taken from the Liverpool Mercury, 3rd May 1969.

Advertisement for the Great Eastern, New Ferry taken from the Liverpool Mercury, 3rd May 1969.

The charge of permitting drunkenness was proved with the magistrate staring that this case was a “disgraceful one.” Henry Mills was given a penalty of £10 and asked to pay costs.

This wasn’t the only time Henry Mills had an encounter with the magistrates’ court although his next appearance had a different outcome.

In January 1877, Mills was again summoned for permitting drunkenness. On December 29th of the previous year, Sergeant O’Donnell and Police Constable Asbury visited the Great Eastern where they found a local man, John Cooney, drunk, leaning on the counter with a pint mug of beer in front of him. Mills denied that there was anything wrong with the man but, after being spoken to by the police, agreed that the man had had enough. Sergeant O’Donnell had suspicions that the landlord was shortsighted.

At court, staff from the Wirral Hotel were called and said that they’d denied Cooney drink at their establishment due to his drunken state. A postman, on the other hand, who had been at the Great Eastern that evening, said that he’d not seen anything to suggest that the man was drunk.

To convict Henry Mills, he had to be seen to be serving a drunk man. Due to the sergeant’s suspicions that he was shortsighted, the case was dismissed!

Suicide of a Farmer

Oswestry, a market town in the north of Shropshire has a long and tumultuous history. Its name, it is thought, originates from the year 642 when the Anglo-Saxon kings, Penda and Oswald fought at the Battle of Maserfield. It is said that the loser of the battle, Oswald, was dismembered and one of his arms was carried to a tree by an eagle. As Oswald was a saint, miracles were attributed to the tree, ‘Oswald’s Tree.’ It is from this, that the word Oswestry is thought to derive.

St. Oswald, King of Northumbria.

St. Oswald, King of Northumbria.

Oswestry is divided into several townships, one of these being Morton, a largely rural area. It was here were Richard Thomas was born in about 1835. Richard was brought up by his parents, William and Elizabeth Thomas, on a farm consisting of 215 acres of land and he soon followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a farmer.

Some time around the year 1857, Richard decided that life in Shropshire wasn’t for him so set sail for Australia. He remained here for about thirteen years before returning to Morton some time in the early 1870s and reacquainting himself with the family business.


Richard Thomas and his family at Morton, Shropshire on the 1871 Census.

The fateful event happened early on Saturday March 11th, 1876. Richard had been in a happy mood as he had been drinking, on and off, for a fortnight. The previous day, it had been work as usual – he had been working with the machine in the stackyard (where hay and grain is kept) and was seen by his elder brother, William, sitting on a stool in the small room.

William worked outside for the rest of the day and, on his return, sometime between ten and eleven pm, noted that Richard was already in bed in the room the brothers shared. A little after midnight, Richard awoke, got out of bed, put on his leggings and boots and came downstairs, claiming that he could hear a noise resembling lots of small dogs. His mother, Elizabeth, told him that there was nothing wrong, probably assuming that his drinking had been the cause of these ‘noises.’ Richard returned to bed.

About 5am, William was awoken by a rattling noise, a bit like the sound of someone vomiting. He got out of bed to find the source of the noise which had since ceased. It was then that he saw what had occurred and promptly called his mother, locking the bedroom door behind him.

John Lindup, one of the farm workers, went with a servant girl to view the scene. On unlocking the door, he found Richard Thomas dead in the bedroom, blood emanating from his throat. Next to him was a penknife, the blade open and covered in blood. The knife belonged to the deceased – it was one that Lindup had seen him use many times before.

As was the custom, an inquest was called later in the day and took place at the home of the deceased. Mr Coroner Blackburne decreed that death must have been almost instantaneous as the throat was terribly gashed. A verdict of suicide was returned, it being claimed that the deceased was suffering from ‘unsound state of mind.’

Richard was buried in the family grave at Morton Parish Church on 14th March 1876.

SS Philip & James, the parish church at Morton where Richard Thomas is buried.

SS Philip & James, the parish church at Morton where Richard Thomas is buried.