One of the most informative and interesting Victorian sources for family historians is the newspaper. Many believe, wrongly, that as they are descended from ‘ordinary’ families, they are a pointless resource as nothing newsworthy could have occurred. In reality, it is quite the opposite as they contain a great weath of information regarding birth announcements and obituaries, legal notices and, on occasion, stories giving an insight into the working life and personality of ancestors. With sites such as http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and http://www.findmypast.co.uk offering searchable databases to numerous British newspapers, there has never been a better time to try to find stories from the past.
My great-great grandmother’s sister, Mary Thomas, the daughter of William Thomas (a farmer from Morton, Shropshire) and Elizabeth Jones, married Samuel Lawrence on April 25th, 1862 in Llanyblodwel, Shropshire. After their marriage, Samuel appeared to be doing well for himself as, by 1871, he was a farmer of 136 acres, employing two men and one boy. Like so many at that time, however, alcohol seemed to have played a negative part in his life.
On October 7th, 1879, at about 9pm, David Jones, a farm labourer, was having supper in the Lawrence family kitchen. Witnessed by a gamekeeper, Samuel Lawrence entered the room and assaulted Jones.
The following morning, Jones arrived back at the farm, his sole intention being to settle the dispute with Lawrence but, finding that his master was not at home, he stayed for two and a half hours, churning. He also drank two mugs of beer. Later, Lawrence did return and, the worse for beer, said, “I want you. How much do I owe you?” Jones replied that he did not know the exact amount but soon found that Lawrence had gripped his beard with one hand and was striking him beneath his ear with his other. Lawrence then kicked him on the ground.
Jones managed to push Lawrence away, saying, “I can’t stand this,” but the farmer was determined to hold on to his victim, kicking him in the ribs. The assault only ceased when Lawrence’s wife, Mary, and one of his sons (presumably William as their other son, Edward would have been aged about 5 years) restrained him. Jones left the farm, staying at a neighbour’s until his wife came to meet him. With great difficulty, he managed to travel the two miles home. He stayed in bed for ten weeks, being tended to by a doctor.
Samuel Lawrence’s version of events differs slightly. He claims that, when he arrived home, he asked Jones what he was doing in his house. Jones replied that he wanted his money. After a row, Lawrence hit Jones and a scuffle ensued. On hitting him again, Jones fell to the ground, coming into contact with a stone and there was no truth in Jones’ statement that he kicked him in the ribs. Lawrence claimed that Jones was quite tipsy by this point, stating that he’d consumed three mugs of beer.
When the case was brought up at the County Court in January 1880, the judge, Arundel Rogers, concluded that there was no doubt that Jones’ injuries had been caused due to an assault from Lawrence although there was no evidence to prove that he had been kicked. Lawrence was fined £20 which also included the cost of medical attendance.