St Helens 100 years ago this week

In this, St Helens 150th year, we take a look back at 1918, when St Helens was celebrating its 50th anniversary. Read what was happening at that time, 9th to 15th July 1918.

This week’s many stories include the conscientious objector coal miner from Parr, the Ashton’s Green miner who left his family destitute after he ran off with another woman, the Ashcroft Street licensee prosecuted for holding a charity raffle, tributes to the French in Victoria Square and the girls charged with “interfering with growing onions” in Victoria Park.

However we begin in St Helens Police Court on the 9th with the “cunning girl thief”. That was the St Helens Reporter’s headline to their article on Catherine Sullivan. She was charged with stealing a total of £2 13s 11d from four children who’d been sent on errands by their parents.

Catherine had tricked eight other kids into handing over their cash. However the police decided to only bring four specimen charges concerning shops in Elephant Lane, Peter Street, Higher Parr Street and Dentons Green Lane.

The 17-year-old had asked each of the children to buy her a small item from one of these shops – saying she would look after their money for them. When the child came out of the shop, Catherine had disappeared and so had their parents’ cash.

The girl’s own parents were dead and she lived with her sister and brothers in Eccleston Street. Catherine had told them she was employed at a munitions works but was instead making her living by robbing children on their way to the shops.

Last week 12-year-old Ernest Seddon from Duke Street had been birched for similar thefts. However girls hadn’t been beaten since the 1820s and Catherine Sullivan was instead put on probation, with the magistrates ordering her sister to repay the money at £1 per week.

Also in court on the 9th was Neville Roberts, who was charged with stealing a bicycle and obtaining food and lodgings by false pretences. In fact he’d been quite a busy boy since deserting from an army hospital in Bristol last February.

The 30-year-old was wanted by police forces in 24 towns for a total of 38 offences. While in St Helens the man had claimed to be an inspector of munitions and a Mrs Hardman of Hamer Street had allowed him food and lodgings.

Roberts then took off without payment on a bike that he’d stolen from another lodger. This he sold in Haydock, where Sergeant Houghton arrested him.

It certainly would have been easy to identify the conman if his sleeves were rolled up. On his forearms Roberts had tattoos of two women’s heads, a tombstone and a heart.

The St Helens magistrates committed Neville Roberts to the Liverpool Assizes, where he would be sent to prison for nine months.

It was a serious crime for a man to abandon his wife and children and leave them without money. On July 10th Richard Hilton appeared in St Helens Police Court charged with such an offence.

On June 6th the 38-year-old miner had quit his job at Ashton’s Green Colliery and then walked out on his family. Hilton’s wife Eliza and their three children had nothing to live on and so a ‘relieving officer’ called Mr Cooper had to provide emergency relief.

These officers were essentially the outreach service of Whiston workhouse, dealing with cases of severe hardship within the community. In court Mr Cooper said one of the “despicable features” of the case was that the man had left his wife after 15 years of marriage for another woman.

She was the wife of a man serving in the army and the couple had set up home in Barnsley. This was clearly taken into account by the magistrates when they sentenced Richard Hilton to three months in prison.

The man had in fact begun making weekly payments to his wife within a fortnight of his departure. However the magistrates gave that little weight, as they wanted to demonstrate their disgust at the immorality of Hilton’s actions.

The St Helens Tribunal met this week to consider appeals against conscription. The Cooperative Society – based in Baldwin Street – requested an exemption from military service for a 25-year-old employee called A. Davies.

They said a release would be “desirable for the good of the trade of the town”. However the Tribunal’s chairman was unimpressed saying: “You cannot come before this Tribunal and ask us to spare a man of 25 when we are sending men of 50.”

A coal miner from Parr called William Schofield told the Tribunal that he was a conscientious objector and was refusing to join the army on religious grounds.

The 26-year-old single man said that he worshipped with others at a house in Cooper Street and held a reference from the late Vicar of Holy Trinity Church at Parr Mount.

Schofield was asked if he would be prepared to use a poker to resist the Germans if they were “murdering his mother”. He replied that he would not defend his mother with a poker but would do all he could to stop the attack.

Despite saying he would refuse to join a non-combatant corps if forced to wear a uniform, the Tribunal ordered Schofield to do so. By 1918 the authorities had largely given up trying to make “conshies” serve in the army and most were instead told to work on the land.

Read the rest of the article here

‘St Helens 100 Years Ago This Week’ has been a weekly feature on the Sutton Beauty & Heritage Facebook page since March 2016. The article is written and researched by Stephen Wainwright.

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