Remembering the Life and Crimes
The true story of a drunkard, poacher, loudmouth
and troublemaker of the late 19th century
William Broadhurst was born in 1837, the son of William (b 1811) and Mary (b 1816) Broadhurst. At the time of the 1841 census, he had one younger brother, Thomas (b 1838) and one younger sister, Sarah (b1840). The census returns are from the Parish of Aldridge and so it is likely that the family was housed at the time at Mill Green, Chester Road, where the Broadhurst parents continued to live for many years into the 19th century and Thomas into the 20th century.
William was undoubtedly referred to as Bill or Billy by his family, friends and acquaintances and that, for the most part, is the way we will refer to him in this story.
Billy on the move
At some stage, Billy moved to Stonnall in the Parish of Shenstone, probably with some other members of his family. We know this because making his first, as it were, public appearance in the records, in 1873 he was summonsed to the court in Shenstone to answer a case involving bastardy. Evidently, he had failed to pay maintenance for a child of his who was born out of wedlock.
In this case, he was ordered to pay arrears of £1.17s.6d, a fairly tidy sum at the time, or face 3 months' imprisonment. The outcome of the case is not known, but it is likely that Billy took the time.
The Broadhurst residence in Stonnall was next door to the Royal Oak and we know this because Broadhursts of several generations continued to live there well into the 20th century. Indeed, at least 2 members of the Broadhurst family are depicted on the Royal Oak Photo of 1914.
Seated on the pavement, Billy's great-nephew George Broadhurst with his sister Harriet.
© Julian Ward-Davies
The proximity of a public house to his place of abode probably contributed, as we will see, to his acquisition of a rather robust liking for beverages - and in copious quantities - of the alcoholic variety. Indeed, on many occasions Billy may have spent such an excess of money on beer that there was very little left for the other necessities of life. Finding himself in a situation such as that, what was a man to do?
Billy goes poaching
We next encounter Billy in the records in 1881, by which time he had already built up a string of convictions. In August of that year, he was charged with trespassing in pursuit of game, or poaching as most people would refer to it, on land belonging to Col Bagnall, a magistrate, in Shenstone. The gamekeeper, one Mr Mansfield, watched the defendant for some hours, and finally saw him come to some snares which had been set in a field at Little Mosses.
adjacent to Lichfield-Birmingham Turnpike Road,
from the Tithe Map, 1838.
© Julian Ward-Davies
During the hearing, it was stated that there were many convictions against him for similar offences. He was fined 20s. and costs, or a month in gaol in default. Billy's preference in this case is not known.
Assaulting a police officer
In October 1883, in probably his most foolish escapade to date, Billy was hauled before Rushall Police Court, to answer a charge of an assault on a police officer. He was fined 20s and costs, or one month's imprisonment, for assaulting Police Constable Butler, who had been called upon to turn him out of the Plough and Harrow Inn on Chester Road.
© Julian Ward-Davies
Now, one might speculate as to why Billy had found it necessary to go to the trouble of walking the mile or two from Stonnall to the Plough and Harrow in order to quench his thirst. Could it be that, by then, he had already been expelled and banned from the Stonnall public houses?
Drunk and disorderly
Only a month or two later, in December 1883, William Broadhurst, described as a labourer of Stonnall, appeared in court in Brownhills to answer a summons charging him with being drunk and disorderly on 30th November. Police Constable Britten said he was on duty at Chester Road, Brownhills, at about 9pm, when he heard someone making a great noise. Upon coming up to the defendant, he became very abusive and challenged him (the PC) to a fight. He also used bad language and was quoted as saying "I'll knock your ****** head off!".
© Julian Ward-Davies
It was stated that, up to that point, Billy had amassed 18 previous convictions. On this occasion, his act of exceedingly misguided bravado cost him 14 days’ hard labour at Stafford Gaol, together with costs of 13s.6d, or in default, a further term of imprisonment.
It seems that Billy was out of work and had been expelled from the Broadhurst residence in Stonnall by some time in 1884 because, in November of that year, he appeared at Brownhills Petty Sessions charged with vagrancy. He had been caught trespassing at Thornes Hall Farm, which was then occupied by Mr Joseph Middleton, in Church Road, Stonnall, by sleeping rough in one of the farm's outhouses. On this occasion, he was sentenced to 14 days' hard labour, PC Brown, of Stonnall, having proved the offence.
© Julian Ward-Davies
Drunk and disorderly again
By the following year, Billy seems to have got back on his feet - if that is the right expression to use - because in June of that year, he was able to afford to go out for a few beers - and get himself arrested in the process. He was charged at Brownhills Petty Sessions with being drunk and disorderly in Stonnall. There being a long list of previous convictions, the defendant was fined 10s with 10s.6d costs.
These were certainly no paltry sums for a humble labourer and we could expect that Billy was feeling somewhat financially challenged because of repetitive fines, if he were ever able to pay them, or the loss of earnings from periods of prison-time, if he were not. As we will see, this situation would certainly bring about a natural consequence.
Billy goes poaching again
In December 1886, Billy was charged once again with trespassing in pursuit of game. At Brownhills Petty Sessions, William Broadhurst, labourer, Stonnall, answered to a charge of trespassing on land belonging to Mr George Wright, of Manor Farm, Stonnall, on the 27th December. The newspaper reports of the time provide some detailed information as to the what and where of the events that took place.
in the distance beyond the Gravelly Lane hedgerow,
Mr Wright's field
© Julian Ward-Davies
Mr George Walker, of Little Aston, the gamekeeper for the Hon Parker Jervis of Little Aston Hall, said that at 8am one Sunday, he was in Gravelly Lane, in the Parish of Shenstone, and saw the defendant doing something to Mr Wright’s fence, Mr Walker being in Mr Brown's field on the opposite side of the lane. He went to him and found in his possession a snare and trap for catching game. Billy insisted that he had simply found the snare. Mr Walker had known the defendant for two years as "a well-known poacher". Mr Wright stated that the fence where Mr Walker had met Billy belonged to him. Police Sergeant Given stated that Billy had six previous convictions for poaching. The Bench found the case proved and imposed a fine of 10s with 12s.6d costs. In default of payment, the defendant was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment with hard labour.
Billy gets a skinful
Within a couple of years Billy was up to his old ways once again. It was reported in February 1888 that William Broadhurst, labourer, Stonnall, was fined 10s, or 14 days’ imprisonment at Brownhills Petty Sessions, for having been found drunk on the 7th February, in the Old Chester Road, in the Parish of Shenstone.
© Julian Ward-Davies
Later on that year, Billy seems to have tried his luck at Sandhills. It was reported that William Broadhurst, labourer. Upper Stonnall, was charged with trespassing on land in the occupation Mr James Brawn, a magistrate of Sandhills Farm, on the 27th October. Mr William Cooper, a shepherd employed by Mr Wright of Manor Farm, Stonnall, said he saw Billy on the land in question. The defendant was said to have been on his knees setting a trap. Mr Cooper went to him and took the trap from him together with a rabbit. ln this case, the defendant admitted taking the rabbit out of the trap.
At the same court hearing, another charge was preferred against the defendant for further going in pursuit of game, and also with having a trap in his possession. Police Constable J Brown, said he had met the defendant on the morning of the 30th October, a little before 5 o’clock in the village of Stonnall and being suspicious he stopped Billy and searched him, finding a rabbit trap in his hand which had a quantity of fur upon it. The defendant, who said he had been using the trap to catch rats, was fined £2 and costs in the first case and in the second case 10s and costs, or in default six weeks' imprisonment.
Billy gets caught poaching for the last time
In December 1899, Billy seems to have made his last appearance in court. It was reported that William Broadhurst, labourer, Stonnall, was charged at Brownhills Petty Sessions with trespassing in search of game at Shenstone, on land belonging to Mr George Foden of Gainsborough Farm.
Police Constable Williams stated that at 4.30pm on the 28th November. he was on duty in Gravelly Lane, Stonnall, where he saw the defendant enter a field belonging to Mr Foden and after searching the hedge for about 100 yards, he set a rabbit trap in a run about seven yards from the hedge. He afterwards went into another field belonging to Mr Wright of Manor Farm, Stonnall, where he picked up something and put it in his pocket.
On returning to the highway, PC Williams asked him what he had got. Billy replied that he had nothing at all. The police officer searched him and found a rabbit trap in his pocket. Billy denied that he had been in Mr Foden's field, but the officer went there and found a trap seven yards from the hedge. The defendant, who denied setting the traps, was fined 5s and 10s.6d costs, or 14 days imprisonment.
Billy's last journey and skinful
Within a year or so, it seems that Billy was out of work and destitute to the point in which, to avoid the possibility of further charges of vagrancy, he was admitted to the workhouse in Lichfield. For an unknown reason, he was discharged from that institution in April 1901. At the age of 65, it seems he was determined to go back and enjoy his old haunts, if only for one last time.
on Walsall Road.
© Julian Ward-Davies
His quest succeeded. He walked all the way up Pipe Hill to Spring Hill and then on to Sandhills and then all the way up Shire Oak Hill to Friezland Lane, taking in a few pints on the way, no doubt with the help of friends and sympathisers. Within 24 hours, he was dead. The newspaper report of the following inquest tells the whole story of his last journey and pub crawl.
An inquest was held at the Public Rooms Tuesday morning, touching the death of William Broadhurst, an old farm labourer, who died at the house of his niece on Sunday morning, after having been discharged from the Lichfield Workhouse on the previous day. Mr F Bradbury was chosen foreman of the jury, and the deputy coroner, Mr A Beetham (West Bromwich), conducted the enquiry.
Thomas Broadhurst, Chester Road, Stonnall, the brother of the deceased, stated that the latter was 65 years of age and had formerly been a farm labourer. He had been in the Workhouse and witness last saw him in October. He identified the body.
John Judson, of Friezland Lane, Brownhills, stated that he married the deceased's niece. In April about 9 o'clock pm, he saw the deceased on the Lichfield Road. He told the witness he was going to his house, and the witness told him to "get on," as he appeared to have had some drink. At 10.30 he found him lying on the roadside about a quarter of mile nearer his (Judson's) house. Deceased could not walk and was under the influence drink, and witness eventually got him to his house at 11.45. He bedded him on the floor, and on coming down in the morning found him mumbling inarticulately. The deceased died very suddenly about 9.45.
PC Williamson, stationed at Lynn, stated that saw the deceased with Judson, in a drunken condition, on the Saturday night. PC McLennan deposed that he had made enquiries and found that deceased was admitted to Lichfield Workhorse in November last, and was discharged at eight o'clock on Saturday morning. The deceased had not been under medical treatment in the Workhouse. The latter place was about five miles distant from Brownhills.
Elijah Wilkin said he saw deceased at the Red, White and Blue Inn, and he seemed weak and to have had some beer. Richard Aspley, landlord, and cousin of the deceased, deposed that he had three half-pints of beer at his house at about two o'clock and left at seven for Brownhiils. He refused to have anything to eat.
Mr William landlord of the Leopard Inn, Sandhills, stated that deceased called at his house about 8.30, but was not served with drink. There were some customers in, however, who might have given him some. Witness thought he had had enough.
John C. Maddever, medical practitioner, said had made a post-mortem examination of the body, and found consequence that the valves of the heart were in a very diseased state. The lungs also showed signs old bronchitis and pleurisy. The cause of death was failure of the heart's action, accelerated by exhaustion and want of food.
A verdict in accordance with the medical testimony was returned.
So that was the life, in terms of a summary of his known criminal convictions at least, of Billy Broadhurst. In present-day parlance, he had been a serial offender. But really, was he such a bad fellow?
It is true that drink had got the better of him on many occasions, which were probably much more numerous than the number of his actual convictions conveys. But one can go out on virtually on any Friday or Saturday night and observe many Billy Broadhursts of both genders in any town centre. Had he been singled out for special treatment as, possibly, an easy target? Did a sense of injustice impel him to resist arrest on occasion?
Then there is the poaching. Hon Parker Jervis, Mr Wright, Col Bagnall, Mr Brawn and Mr Foden were all relatively rich men. They could afford to be sanctimonious - as well as the roast beef, bacon, chicken and eggs which, no doubt, they enjoyed on a daily basis. Furthermore, within a couple of generations, rabbitting was an acceptable pastime which tended to keep down the damage to crops caused by these rodents.
Anyway, Billy seems to have had the last laugh. He had evaded arrest on his penultimate day on earth and he had died after doing what he liked doing best for one last time.
If ever he were able to follow these recollections, he would probably look down with a wry smile on his face.
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2018
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