Horse and Trap
An example of a local horse and trap c.1900
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The moral of this tale is that you did not mess about with Mrs Ellen Bridgeman and Mr James Hunt should have known that. Mrs Bridgeman was married to, and separated from, Joseph Bridgeman, a pig and cattle dealer. After the break-up she started in business as a wardrobe trader at 112-114 Horseferry Road, Westminster. On Sunday mornings she auctioned clothes at New Cut, Lambeth (it still has Sunday markets today) and hired Hunt, who ran a coffee stall, to transport the merchandise in a hand barrow. He had 'taken a liberty with her', she said, presumably on the assumption that he thought she was lonely.

In June 1896 Hunt decided to go to the Derby meeting at Epsom and 'borrowed' Mrs Bridgeman's horse and trap for the journey, without asking first. Most people would have informed the police and let them get on with it, but not Mrs Bridgeman - she set off for Epsom herself and spent a long time scouring the course for her quarry. He was not to be found, but she was a resourceful woman, so had herself driven into the town to investigate premises with stabling. The horse and trap were at The Plough and Harrow in East Street and she settled down to await the thief. As dusk descended she spotted him 'sneaking along by the fence', but he saw her and bolted. Eventually the police arrested Hunt when he returned for the equipage at 10 pm. When she saw him Mrs Bridgeman ran after him and hit him.

The Plough and Harrow
The Plough and Harrow
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In court Hunt said, 'You can look after yourself!', to which she responded, 'You villain! I would pickle you if I had my way.'

Hunt blamed his actions on 'booze and the Derby' and was remanded in custody. When he next appeared he was sentenced to 21 days' hard labour, not particularly because he had taken the horse and trap, but because he had driven a horse that had no shoes.



In May 1888 John Greentree (19) died in Epsom Workhouse Infirmary of hydrophobia. About six weeks earlier his dog had been put down on the grounds of strange behaviour but the vet said that it did not have rabies: nor had Mr Greentree been bitten. It was decided that he had contracted the disease in his attempts to repair a door gnawed by the animal, having used a pencil to mark out the section for replacement and then licked the point.


The Rev Frederick Grosvenor (65), chaplain of Epsom Workhouse since 1886, dropped dead in the High Street on his way home from church on 18 February 1894. His replacement, appointed in April, was the Rev Edward Laffan Garvock Houndle, who does not seem to have had a happy incumbency.

Sunday Service

Two weeks after Houndle took up the post he attended the workhouse chapel to conduct a Sunday service, only to find his right to do so challenged by the Vicar of Epsom, the Rev John Samuel. The latter said that Houndle did not have the requisite Bishop's licence and took the service himself. Samuel had been an unsuccessful applicant for the chaplaincy.

Epsom Workhouse (All Saints) Chapel Interior c.1888
Epsom Workhouse (All Saints) Chapel Interior c.1888
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

In 1895 there was general dissatisfaction about Houndle's performance of his duties (which were supposed to be a full-time job). He always turned up for Sunday services, but was noticeable by his absence for most of the rest of the week. A member of the Board of Guardians said that Houndle had attended the workhouse for only four hours in a period of six days and could not have given much attention to the sick. Houndle claimed that the total was eight hours, which still seems very little, and made various excuses; he also complained that he had not been present at some recent Guardians' meetings because he could not get a seat. A committee was appointed to investigate the discrepancy between the claims made concerning hours of attendance.

By the spring of 1897 Houndle had left the district to become Rector of Heyshott in Sussex.


Ecclesiastical Excess

Given that some occupants would not be particularly enamoured of the workhouse, one wonders if the Bishop of Winchester and the reporter from the Hampshire Advertiser could have been at the communion wine when they paid a visit to Epsom in 1894. The paper florally said, 'It was on Sunday afternoon, when nature was in one of her termagant moods and the skies dropped fatness in the shape of cataracts. There is a beautiful chapel attached to this union house of labour - an effort of considerate and devout munificence, much to be emulated and everywhere to be imitated. After preaching the bishop was conducted through the house and visited the infirmary wards, everywhere finding traces of that wise and strong benevolence which has made this house to take a very front place among the workhouses of the country, and indicates the deep impression of the cogent and kind-hearted personality which has so long directed its affairs.'


July 1899

The Guardians provided separate sitting-rooms for aged and respectable inmates. It is unclear from this single-sentence report whether the aged were to be separated from the respectable or otherwise.


Roast Beef

June 1894

Lord Rosebery said that he would like to give the workhouse inmates a treat and proposed roast beef, plum pudding and all the trimmings.

Also in June 1894 the Morning Post reported that, because of the severe rain on the night following the Derby, hundreds of tramps - men, women and children - had flocked to the workhouse and police station for shelter - or perhaps they had heard about the roast beef and plum pudding.

July 1894

Following hot on the heels of the June treat, Lord Rosebery arranged another function to celebrate his horse, Ladas, winning the Derby. This time it was two bands, a Punch and Judy Show and dancing. There was more roast beef and plum pudding, plus fruit, tobacco and snuff. His Lordship also presented the workhouse with a piano.

June 1895

Inmates were once more in luck when Lord Rosebery's horse, Sir Visto, won the Derby. Lord Rosebery himself attended the workhouse celebrations and told the inmates that, whatever their differences were in social standing, they should all try to rejoice as brothers.

Tramp smoking a cigar   Lord Rosebery
Left: Tramp smoking a cigar. Image source: US Library of Congress
Right: Caricature of Lord Rosebery by Leslie Ward ('Spy')
from Vanity Fair 14 March 1901. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

October 1895

Repeated complaints had been received about the quality of the beef and butter (which was probably better food than some people not in the workhouse were eating). The House and Provisions Committee considered the matter and saw no reason to interfere, as a new contract had been entered into for the supply of butter.

March 1900

It's that man again! Inmates received another treat from His Lordship to celebrate the relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith.

August 1900

During the hot weather the medical officer recommended that the inmates were served with cold meat and bread rather than soup and stew.

January 1903

His Lordship provided yet another dinner, this time to celebrate the coming of age of his son, Lord Dalmeny. A similar treat was provided in June 1905 to recognise the Derby win of Cicero.

December 1905

It seems that you could get a good meal at the workhouse without Lord Rosebery...if it was Christmas Day. The Surrey Mirror reported that at 7 am the inmates had a good breakfast of tea, cocoa, bread and butter etc, followed by Holy Communion. The Christmas dinner consisted of roast beef, mashed potatoes, Christmas pudding, chicken...and ale. The day concluded with a concert.

The following poem, which depicts everyday life in a workhouse, was written to his sister by James Withers Reynolds, known as 'The Workhouse Poet', in 1846, when he was in Newmarket Union.

Since I cannot, dear sister, with you hold communion,
I'll give you a sketch of our life in the union.
But how to begin I don't know, I declare:
Let me see: well, the first is our grand bill of fare.
We've skilly* for breakfast; at night bread and cheese,
And we eat it and then go to bed if you please.
Two days in the week we have puddings for dinner,
And two, we have broth, so like water but thinner;
Two, meat and potatoes, of this none to spare;
One day, bread & cheese - and this is our fare.
And now then my clothes I will try to portray;
They're made of coarse cloth and the colour is grey,
My jacket and waistcoat don't fit me at all;
My shirt is too short, or I am too tall;
My shoes are not pairs, though of course I have two,
They are down at heel and my stockings are blue ...
A sort of Scotch bonnet we wear on our heads,
And I sleep in a room where there are fourteen beds.
Some are sleeping, some are snoring, some talking, some playing,
Some fighting, some swearing, but very few praying.
Here are nine at a time who work on the mill;
We take it in turns so it never stands still:
A half hour each gang, so 'tis not very hard,
And when we are off we can walk in the yard ...
I sometimes look up at the bit of blue sky
High over my head, with a tear in my eye.
Surrounded by walls that are too high to climb,
Confined like a felon without any crime,
Not a field nor a house nor a hedge I can see -
Not a plant, not a flower, nor a bush nor a tree ...
But I'm getting, I find, too pathetic by half,
And my object was only to cause you to laugh;
So my love to yourself, your husband and daughter,
I'll drink to your health with a tin of cold water:
Of course, we've no wine, not porter, nor beer,
So you see that we all are teetotallers here.

*skilly was a thin soup or gruel


Following the December 1901 death in the Workhouse Infirmary of 82 year old William Batchelor, described as a miser who walked around barefoot and in rags, a hoard of valuable coins was found, plus other valuables, his effects totalling 4,363. Accordingly he was buried as a gentleman in Ewell Churchyard.


In 1917 the master of the workhouse discovered in the midst of the paupers a fifteen year old girl named Alice Mears, who had been an inmate for eight years. Her voice was so beautiful that the Guardians decided to provide three years' voice training and look after her until she had made good as an opera or concert singer. The solo piece that earned her such praise was called 'While the earth remaineth', a harvest-time anthem.


Gaiety girl poster
Gaiety girl poster
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Epsom Cottage Hospital would not have been too used to having a female desperado under police guard in one of its beds, but that's what happened in 1920 when Mrs Thelma Dorothy Bamberger was admitted for appendicitis, refused the operation and then had to undergo surgery for peritonitis. She was already suffering from neurasthenia and had failed to appear in court earlier that week on a charge of perjuring herself in divorce proceedings, with the result that an arrest warrant was issued.

When she had recovered, her defence counsel painted a picture of a woman being unfairly made a scapegoat. He said everyone knew that people lied in divorce cases but they were rarely prosecuted for it.

Mrs Bamberger had been a Gaiety Girl (original name Lily Amelia Taylor) when, aged 18, she married Frederick Jenkins. Later on, she said she could not remember when and where she was born, nor who her parents were, and persisted in that claim even when her birth certificate was produced. Nor had she any real recollection of Mr Jenkins, who had obtained a decree nisi in 1910 on the grounds of her persistent adultery with Harry Theodore Bamberger (later Burton). And she certainly could not recall being arrested for extorting money from a man she had picked up - that must have been her twin sister (she didn't have a twin, but there was a sister who seemed to be involved).

As soon as the decree nisi was pronounced, Lily (now calling herself Thelma Dorothy Marchmont) 'married' Mr Bamberger, without waiting for the decree absolute. When that was issued she married him again, in 1911.

Mr Bamberger was away at the war for a long time and Lily/Thelma allegedly committed adultery with at least four men and actually lived with one of them. When she filed for divorce in 1917 she did so on the grounds of her husband's adultery. In due course someone had a word with the King's Proctor and she found herself in the High Court with all her own dirty linen being washed in public. This was when she had her big bout of amnesia about the past. There was also evidence that she had been involved with several prominent men who were not named in court and had tried to get money from them. Her defence was that she had never done anything with anyone, including her husbands, and was still a virgin but, on the other hand, if the court thought she was an adulteress, then her husband had made her do it.


March 1876
Financial Times
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

A box was placed at each of the stations in Epsom to collect used newspapers and periodicals for the workhouse inmates. What proportion of the inmates could read was not stated.


May 1895
Joseph Sawyer, 67, committed suicide by cutting his throat in a workhouse lavatory. Apparently he was distressed by the fact that he had been suffering from a throat disease, for which the doctor had authorised use of a steam kettle.


This advertisement appeared in The Reading Mercury of 18 March 1882.

Vicar of Epsom

No better gift (the Bible excepted) as a Birthday or Wedding Present. It contains, in Readings for Every Day, telling extracts from the WRITINGS of the REFORMERS and MARTYRS.

Price 6s. , free by post, on application to the Vicar, Epsom; G.Lovejoy, Bookseller, Reading; or Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, London.


...and still on the subject of 'The Speaking Dead', this story appeared in the Evening Telegraph of 4 June 1913 as part of a piece about historical Derby skulduggery.

Crowd That Cheered a Corpse

About the race of 1844 hangs a story which might well have sprung from the brain of that morbid but consummate genius, Edgar Allan Poe.

Crockford, the owner of a notorious gambling hell of the period, had a favourite, Ratan, poisoned on the eve of the race, and in the fury of his rage the owner was seized with a fit of apoplexy which proved fatal.

The dead Crockford had a filly also entered for the Oaks, and his friends, anxious to avoid disqualification in the event of the animal winning, concocted a gruesome plot.

They had the body of the dead man propped up at the window of his house where it could be seen by thousands of spectators visiting the course.

The trick succeeded, the filly won the Oaks, and the backers, chuckling over their grisly ruse, drew their winnings while the crowd homeward bound were cheering the inanimate figure.

Note: This does not seem to be completely accurate. Another report claimed that Crockford did not own the winning horse, but had a very large bet on the actual winner, and the ruse with the corpse was carried out so that the proceeds could be collected (bets being void in the event of death). Whatever the truth of the matter, everyone agreed that his dead body was propped up in the window of his house for financial motives connected with the race. William Crockford was the founder of the famous Crockford's gambling club. An Australian newspaper, telling the tale in 1908, observed that 'at the best of times Crockford looked more like an animated corpse than a man'.

Linda Jackson
July 2013

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