MARITAL MAYHEM

Engraving of Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial
Engraving of Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury from the
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 1 May 1875.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

The reluctant plaintiff (1883)

Agnes Alice Lee was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Lee, formerly the minister at Epsom Congregational Church, and it's a fair assumption that Mr Lee, described as eccentric elsewhere on this website, was the architect of the breach of promise suit that Agnes brought against Edmund West in December 1883. Edmund was a legacy duty clerk at Somerset House, London and also the organist at an Epsom church (St Martin's I would imagine). In 1881 Edmund, 37, was lodging in Epsom and the court heard that the previous year he and Agnes, 18, who was studying music, had begun a correspondence on musical matters. The relationship blossomed and they became engaged. Edmund would often write to her two or three times a day. Then, in September 1882 he broke off the engagement, saying that he feared he would not be happy and so could not make her happy. Agnes said in court that she had never wanted to bring the breach of promise suit and she was clearly under pressure to do so; she had written to Edmund in February 1883, saying 'It may be wrong of me to write under present circumstances, but I cannot help that; indeed, I care very little now whether I disobey my father or not. I have heard that indirectly it is through you I may practice again on the organ. You know what music is to me and I cannot thank you enough. One other thing I wish to say, how ashamed I feel that your things have never been returned to you yet, but believe me it is not in my power to do so, or you should have had them long since…'

The vicar of St Martin's, Benjamin Bradney Bockett, had tried to persuade her (or, more probably, her father) not to sue and in April 1883 she wrote to him, 'I repeat what I said in a former letter, that I have authorised no one to bring an action against Mr West, neither do I wish it.' She was so upset in court that she became hysterical and had to be removed. Edmund was ordered to pay damages of 700 (equivalent to about 70,000 today), which was an astronomical sum for someone employed as a clerk.

Subsequently Agnes went to live with her brother and his family in Thornton Heath; in 1895 she married colonial broker Alfred Bishop. Edmund married Helena Louisa Hussey De Burgh in 1888. I don't know if he ever paid the damages, but, if he did, I daresay that Agnes might have returned the money.


The cad (1890)

La Serveuse de Bocks (The Waitress) by Edouard Manet, 1879.
La Serveuse de Bocks (The Waitress) by Edouard Manet, 1879.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Barrister's son Horace Walpole Ingram (born 1863) had all the right credentials - Charterhouse School and Oxford University and he was apparently a godson of the Earl of Orford. Katie Gould (born 1869 Epsom), daughter of George and Ann Gould, was described by the newspapers as 'very prepossessing'. In 1888 Katie was working as a barmaid at the Sun Hotel, Kingston and who should walk into her bar but young Mr Ingram; he soon proposed and was accepted. He possibly didn't mention that in 1884 he had been sentenced to 3 months in prison for stealing a gold watch, which he then gave to his girlfriend, a lady called Marita Midlane. Katie probably thought she had a catch and there was one.

Ingram claimed in effect that he had expectations from the Earl of Orford and said the engagement must be kept secret or he would be disinherited. Katie offered to release him but he implored her in the most ardent terms not to break it off, writing letters containing such words as 'Carissima e Bellissima Mia' and 'Even as I write passion melts into tenderness and pours itself in softness over your remembrance'. At one point he asked if she loved him enough to wait until the Earl had gone (the Earl actually did go in 1894). Subsequently he broke it off himself, saying that the Earl had found out about them. Katie was awarded 190 in damages. In 1893 she settled for someone less exotic and married carpenter/builder Charles Satchell at Christ Church, Epsom.


A frock too far (1903)

A simple and serviceable cloth toilette
A simple and serviceable cloth toilette.
Image source: Daily Mirror 22 December 1904

Ruby Evelyn Teresa Goodwin was born in about 1883 in Southampton but seems to have lived for most of her life in the household of Joseph and Eliza Shrubb in Epsom (in the 1901 census she was described as 'Ruby Shrubb, daughter'); she worked as a parlourmaid. In July 1902 she became engaged to Thomas Dunford and was due to be married on 25 March 1903. They got as far as having the banns published and then Dunford called it off, saying he had found out she was in debt. Ruby protested that all she owed was the cost of one dress, which she was about to pay. She received 120 in damages and married someone else in 1905.


The reluctant groom (1889)

Ellen Constable (born 1861) was the sister of Derby-winning jockey Henry Constable and met jockey Arthur Henry Barker on Epsom Racecourse in 1879; it was a slow courtship and they did not become engaged until 1884. He showed no signs of being ready and keen to marry her and at the Derby Meeting of 1888 he 'bolted' when he saw her; subsequently he asked his sister to write to her saying that he had married someone else, which he had. Mrs Constable said that her daughter had been so ill over this that she feared she might lose her. Ellen was awarded a whopping 1,000 in damages (about 110,000 today).

In theory, this amount should not have been an impossibility for Barker, as he had earned very good money from his career: however, he was a gambler and when it came down to it he had no assets at all, so he was adjudged bankrupt for the entire amount he owed in damages and costs. He maintained his jockey's licence for some years but eventually became a grocer. Ellen suffered more misfortune; in 1895 she married George John Dickinson, but he died in 1898 and she died herself in 1906. None of the six Constable children lived beyond early middle age and Ellen was the last of them.


The serial bride (1926)

Everybody loves a wedding, especially when the groom is a well-known jockey, so there might have been onlookers outside Epsom Register Office on New Year's Day 1926, when Yorkshireman George Bernard Rickaby married Hazel Moorwood Megson. After a month the new Mrs Rickaby disappeared, having conned Epsom tradesmen out of jewellery and clothing and charged a large number of items to her husband in local shops. In April 1926 she appeared at Epsom Police Court accused of bigamy and stealing and was committed for trial at the Assizes. It emerged that her name was Doreen Rigley and she was already married to a miner from Nottingham: that marriage had taken place in Leeds in December 1922, at which point she was called Doreen Newbury.

Hazel/Doreen received 8 months' imprisonment for her Epsom escapades but what Mr Rigley probably didn't know was that he wasn't married to her either. She was actually the wife of an Austrian, had fleeced him too and had been jailed for theft before. When she got out of prison on the Epsom charges she decided to call herself the 'Honourable Mrs Grant', going to Paris and pretending that she was related to Lady Sybil Grant, daughter of Lord Rosebery - apparently she had once seen the garden at Durdans so knew a little something about the 'family seat'. However, the British aristocrats in Paris were suspicious, so the Hon Mrs Grant returned to London, where she got a job as a housemaid and robbed her employer. This time she received 6 months.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what happened to her next, since I do not know her real name, but there is an entertaining article about her criminal career at the Woodbridge Library Archive.

As a postscript, in 1952, after his riding career had finished, Mr Rickaby, of no fixed address, was sentenced to 6 months in prison on four charges of obtaining credit by fraud; he asked for fifteen similar offences to be taken into consideration.


Ditched (1933)

This one is not strictly marital but it is mayhem.

Sydney Thorley White (born 1896 Southwark) lived at Kittyclover, Ruxley Lane, Ewell with Mrs Alice Lilian Magdika, who was separated from her husband, Hungarian bootmaker Julius Magdika. Their relationship went on for 10 years and then White brought home a friend named Robert Bond, who became their lodger. Mrs Magdika said that White had always been quarrelsome and had threatened suicide; he got worse after Bond moved in and she had him taken away, to be placed under observation. Subsequently she and Bond left the Ruxley Lane house and lived together as man and wife. On 31 August 1933 she met White by appointment and they walked around for four hours, during which time he said he had a revolver and would shoot Bond and that he possessed enough morphine to kill ten people. On four occasions Mrs Magdika stopped him trying to kill himself by jumping in front of cars; he then pulled her into a ditch and stabbed her three times with a pocket knife. White apologised for what he had done and said he would take his punishment like a man; he was remanded in custody for trial.

Unfortunately, I do not yet know what the outcome was, since I cannot currently find a report of the trial, but White resurfaced years later in Western Australia. In October 1952 he was riding a motor cycle, with his 16-year-old son as pillion passenger, when he collided with a truck. White was hospitalised with serious injuries. He then brought a claim for damages against the truck driver, saying that he had suffered dizziness and loss of memory and could no longer do his work as a painter. His wife (a lady from Kent I believe) testified that before the accident he had been very nice and treated her well, but he was now temperamental. The judge's opinion was that White was most unreliable in most respects, his credibility as a witness was in doubt and his own negligence had caused the accident. Case dismissed. According to electoral rolls, Mrs Magdika continued to live in the local area (e.g. Kingston Road, Ewell), but not with Mr Bond, until her death in 1956.


Teenage elopement (1931)

The old blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.
The old blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.
Photo by Niki Odolphie via Wikimedia Commons.

Eldon Churchill Drew (born c.1914 Kingston) was apprenticed to a City tea importer and had been seeing Gwendoline Knight of Ruxley Lane, Ewell for about two years. Gwendoline had a paralysed arm and was just 16 in 1931. On Saturday 9 May they decamped together. Mr Knight, the girl's father, thought they had probably eloped to Gretna Green and sent a telegram to the smithy there forbidding any marriage. On the following Monday the couple saw that they were 'wanted', phoned their parents and gave themselves up - at Weymouth Police Station. When speaking to the press, 17 year old Eldon was smoking a 'big pipe'.

It would be nice to report that the couple eventually married each other and lived happily ever after, but they didn't. In 1936 Gwendoline married an Anthony J Blackman and they appear to have been divorced; then, in 1950, she wed Francis G Scott and she looks to have died in 1981. Eldon married Mary Margaret Taylor in 1941 and they made their home in Surrey but, sadly, he was killed on active service in 1943 during the invasion of Sicily.


Not so topping (1903)

The Toppings lived at Holmwood, West Hill (and sometimes in Flushing, New York) and their marriage was not peaceful. Robert Henry Edward Topping (born c.1870), a commercial agent, married Australian Mattie Minnie Solomon Thompson in 1894 and they had five children, two of whom died very young. In 1903 Mattie petitioned for divorce, alleging cruelty and adultery, and the accusations revealed that the trouble began in 1902 (or this may have been the earliest time for which Mattie could remember a precise date).

The catalogue ran as follows.

1902 West Margate Kicked her in the side and tried to strike her in the face.
1903 Holmwood Threw the cruet at her (the papers did not mention what it was made of and whether or not it hit her).
1903 Holmwood Chased her with a knife and threatened to cut her throat.
1903 Holmwood Chased her with a champagne bottle and threatened to bash her over the head with it.
1903 Holmwood Struck her in the face with his clenched hand.
1903 Bexhill Threw plates at her, seized her by the throat and threw her down.
1903 Holmwood Punched her in the face.
1903 Holmwood Used foully abusive language, bruised her eye, threatened to smother her with a pillow and rip her throat from ear to ear.
1903 Holmwood Abused her, told her to get out of the house and made for her, but she escaped.
1903 Streatham, Suffolk, Brighton and other places Frequently committed adultery with one Alice Flashman (she was a barmaid).

The suit was undefended and Mattie got her divorce, plus a trust fund for herself and the children. In 1904 Robert married Bessie Caroline Edmunds and when he died in 1909, leaving a handy 17,000+, she remarried only months later. Mattie never remarried and died in 1948, with her very modest estate going to the Public Trustee.


Marriage of minutes (1938)

Jockey Charlie Smirke was a former apprentice to Epsom trainer Stanley Wootton and won the Derby four times altogether - his last win came in 1958 when he was about 52. In 1928 he had married Alice Marie Hyams at Epsom, but they were subsequently divorced. In August 1938 he wed Girvan Barker/Dundas, at Epsom Register Office and the bride was observed leaving in a taxi while the groom walked away with some friends. And really that was it, although there were several unsuccessful reconciliations later on (they lived together briefly at 79 West Hill Avenue). In 1941 she divorced him, saying that the marriage had been unhappy and that he had committed adultery with his former wife on board a ship in the Mediterranean.

There is something of a sub-plot here. Girvan was actually Eileen, but she had been born in Girvan and took that name when she went on the stage. In 1927 she married Australian actor/songwriter Jack Dunleavey Barker and they wrote songs together, such as How do you do, Honolulu?, often involving a ukelele; she also sang with Billy Cotton's Band and was divorced from Barker in 1938.

Sheet music for How do you do, Honolulu, with Jack Barker and Girvan Dundas inset.
Sheet music for How do you do, Honolulu,
with Jack Barker and Girvan Dundas inset.
Image source: National Library of Australia

Girvan died at The Samaritan Hospital, Marylebone Road in 1944, allegedly aged 33, but probably 36.

Linda Jackson © 2014



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