At the top of my ancestry ‘To Do’ list for many years now has been ‘Find out who Blind Wreford is’.
Today I’ve finally found out…
I’m not even sure where I first heard of Blind Wreford but I’ve kept an eye out for any mention of him. Finally I found mention of him in obituary for another old wrestler, John Bolt.
He was full of anecdotes of “Blind Wreford,” a wealthy farmer of Cheriton, whodied in 1835 at a very advanced age, and who, notwithstanding his blindness, was a renowned wrestler, often followed the hounds without sustaining severe falls, and was an excellent judge of the weight and general qualities of cattle.”
According to this, he had been totally blind since he was 8. “He was a strongly limbed, well grown and powerful man, about 5 feet 10 in. in height, and was usually led into the ring by a boy, as a guide, and indulged with the privilege of taking hold of his antagonist by the collar…”
I’m really surprised that it’s been so hard to find mention of this guy as he really does seem quite extraordinary.
I wrote in a previous post about pinpointing Thomas PALMER’s premises using a newspaper report of his being robbed. Living by a police station didn’t seem to give the security you’d think it would, as Palmer was robbed again in 1869:
A certain Henry Baker stole two books from him at the value of 4 shillings, as well as a pot of cold cream from a nearby chemist, Charles Mumby. Funnily enough a little research shows this chemist was actually the founder of Mumby’s Mineral Waters. (Read a little more about him here.) He also stole a letter stamp from a Mr Loveder but for some reason this wasn’t investigated.
As the ‘well-known character‘ had been convicted of a felony twice before this incident, Henry Baker was sentenced to twelve months hard labour. Out of curiosity, I found his record of conviction for his crime against Thomas Palmer in the Southampton Assizes records.
I’m curious as to what Thomas’ ‘private mark’ looked like. Was his private mark different to his store mark? Did it look anything like this…?
In my last post, I was trying to find a more exact address for Thomas Palmer, bookseller of Gosport. I had narrowed him down to ‘Upper South Street’ but not being a local, still had no idea where exactly upon the street he lived. The breakthrough came when I found a newspaper article reporting a robbery at his premises:
John Daly, a Royal Artilleryman, was charged with attempting to break into the dwelling house of Thomas Palmer, almost opposite the Police Station, on the previous night. The prisoner was heard at the shutter by a policeman who was going to bed, and he gave information to a brother constable on duty, upon which he went outside the station gate and there saw the prisoner, without a jacket, standing by the window of the house, the shutters being open and partially broken. On seeing the policeman he ran away and was afterwards taken by P.C. Gibbs in a passage in North-street. Mr. Palmer, the occupier of the house, proved fastening up the house about 9 o’clock the previous night. Prisoner was committed for trial.
So now I knew that he lived “…almost opposite the Police Station…”.
Unfortunately, the police station no longer exists on South Street after being destroyed by enemy action in 1941. I found a photograph of the building in 1949 on the Gosport Heritage site but it gave me no other details. Luckily however I found a c.1896 map which marked the location of the police station which made the description, ‘almost opposite’ make sense.
Interestingly, there is also a photo on the Gosport Heritage site captioned; ‘Portland Place; south side of South Street, running north-south almost opposite to the OLD police station.’ I’m pretty sure Palmer’s old book shop is just out of shot on the far left of this image (behind the first building).
That’s probably as close as I’m going to get but since the buildings on that block are long gone now, I still feel strangely accomplished.
At midnight on 21 October 1877, three police officers went to a house in Court No. 2, Rivett St and found a woman, Sarah Sharratt, bleeding from about ten wounds on the head and arm. She had been attacked by our dear Hannah ROLLETT [alias LAMB]. “[The woman] stated that because she interfered when her daughter and the prisoner were quarrelling, the latter attacked her with a drinking glass, which she broke by the violence of her blows” (Nottinghamshire Guardian 26 October 1877, p2 col3).
Hannah had been quarrelling with Sharratt’s daughter all day and threatened to throw the mother and daughter out of the house which they all lodged at together. The middle-aged woman “said she could not do so, and as alleged, [Hannah] then ran upstairs, and, after throwing the contents of a slop-pail upon her, struck her repeatedly on the head with a drinking glass, which broke with her violence… [Hannah] was arrested at an adjoining house the same evening. She was under the influence of drink, and had her hand cut so badly that a doctor had to be sent for” (Sheffield Daily Telegraph 08 November 1877, p7 col6). “Previous convictions being proved against the prisoner, she was sentenced to six months’ hard labour” (Sheffield Independent 09 November 1877, p2 col2).
Of course I wanted to know more about these previous convictions but despite the Calendars of Prisoners being available online for the period 1761 to 1888, I have been unable to find Hannah or Alexander’s prison records. My visit to the record office in Derby proved fruitless too – perhaps the office in Matlock has more as there is no mention of records being destroyed.
Note: the newspaper reports record the street as being River, Rivet and Rivett St. Rivett St was located off Siddals Road. Since River Street is closest to her other addresses and Alexander is reported as being picked up drunk & disorderly on Rivers St in 1881- I am making the presumption that River Street is where the attack occurred.
Locate prison/quarter session records for Hannah & Alexander
Hannah was born Hannah Bates in 1856. Her father was James Bates, a general labourer, and her mother was most likely, Ann Tilbury, a millhand. Little is known so far about her childhood, but it seems her father died when she was around 2 years of age. In 1872, she became Hannah ROLLETT when when she, an 18 year old Silk mill hand married Alexander ROLLETT, a 19 year old ‘Labourer at [the] Colour Works’. This seemed to begin a lifelong association for Hannah with the West End area of Derby, also known as the slums.
Searching the newspapers for Alexander brought up an assault on a police constable he had been involved in 1876, as well as an assault on his wife (Hannah) the previous year, and a charge of drunkenness. “Poor Hannah,” I thought. “Another woeful tale of an abusive alcoholic husband – this must be what made her leave Rollett and take up with William”. But I thought too soon; my next search for ‘Hannah Rollett’ brought up many more mentions than there had been for Alexander and she certainly seemed to be quite the character! With the help of the newspaper articles and some maps, I started piecing Hannah’s story together.
After a couple years of marriage, Hannah and Alexander had their first child, William in 1874. [Evidence suggests they actually had a daughter in 1872 – Sarah Jane Rollett – but I’m uncertain she was Alexander’s] The very next year, Alexander was charged with assaulting Hannah, but because it happened ‘at Rose Hill’, she was directed to ‘apply’ to the County Bench. This was recorded in Friday’s edition of the Derby Mercury, 25 August, 1875.
2 days later, Hannah was convicted of assaulting Alexander’s sister, Sarah Ann. The article notes this occurred on the Saturday; apparently the day after Hannah appeared in the Derby Borough Police Court.
ASSAULT CASE.-Hannah Rollett was summoned for assaulting her sister-in-law, Sarah Ann Rollett, at about three o’clock on the Saturday afternoon previous. -The evidence was of a disgraceful character, and defendant was fined 5s, and costs; in default, seven days’ imprisonment. -On leaving the dock defendant threatened what she would do to the complainant when she came out of gaol; whereupon the Bench ordered her back into the dock and called upon her to find sureties for her good behaviour for three months – herself in the sum of 20l., and two sureties in 5l. each, or one at 10l. – Prisoner said that she might as well be in gaol as anywhere else, and they would have to keep her there.
There was clearly no love lost between the two and although it is not stated what the argument was about, I presume Hannah’s recent charges against Alexander must have had something to do with it.
Their second son, John William was born the next year in September 1876, which means Hannah was heavily pregnant when Alexander assaulted a police constable on the night of August 13, 1876.
MURDEROUS ASSAULT ON A POLICEMAN. -Three men, named Alexander Rollett, William Gell, and William Murphy, were charged with violently assaulting Police-constable Simeon Webster when in the execution of his duty. -The policeman was unable to attend the Court in consequence of the injuries he had sustained. -It appeared that at midnight on Sunday he went to a disturbance in Willow-row, and had no sooner arrived on the scene than he was hit on the back with a brick. He took hold of the man he believed to have thrown it, and was then felled to the ground bleeding and senseless by a brick which was thrown from another quarter, and which struck him on the temple. While on the ground a mob gathered round him and pelted him with bricks and stones, besides kicking him brutally on the body, and they left him apparently dead. He was shortly afterwards taken home, and medical assistance obtained, but he now lies in a precarious state. The three prisoners, when arrested on the charge, emphatically denied it, but a hat found near the scene of the assault is supposed to belong to Gill [sic]. -The men were remanded for a week.
Despite Alexander’s claim he was home by half past 10 that night, he was sentenced (on 29th August) to six months imprisonment for his role in the attack . Less than two weeks later, on the 9th September, Hannah gave birth to their second son and life was certainly not going to get any easier…