The Importance of Newspapers

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 and offering searchable databases to numerous British newspapers, there has never been a better time to try to find stories from the past.

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

Llanyblodwel, Shropshire

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.

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.