A drunk in the family – Part 1

You may be excited to find that among your ancestors there is a notorious convict, especially if they were transported to the Colonies. Unfortunately, for most of us, they are usually less ‘romantic’ – petty thieves, vagrants and drunks. The records of the West Riding jail at Wakefield provide an insight into this uneasy corner of the past[1].

There was a well-known and respectable wheelwright business in early nineteenth-century Barnsley, established there by William Bashforth (1767-1824)[2] and continued by his eldest son, Swithen Bashforth (1793-1873). In St Mary’s old churchyard, there is a memorial stone for William and several of his family. It was organised by Swithen, who looked after his mother following William’s death. Swithen also arranged a stone for his first wife, Elizabeth (née Stringer), with space for his own inscription to be added.

The Barnsley Chronicle of Saturday, 21 July 1933, quoted an elderly resident recalling the 1870s[3]: “At the corner of Peel Street and York Street was a wheelwright’s establishment, kept by old Bashforth and his sons.” At various times before that, Swithen Bashforth had his workshop at 28 Peel Street[4]. What ‘JWR’ recalled, however, belonged to Swithen’s son George Bashforth (1820-1892). George and three of the sons referred to became well known for less respectable reasons.

George Bashforth married the widow Catherine Evans (née Shaw) on 25 March 1844 at Silkstone parish church. Catherine already had one son, James, and the couple went on to have ten more children: five daughters and five sons. Not all of the sons chose to follow their father’s trade of wheelwright in Barnsley, though all started their working life with him. George junior (born 1846) and William (born 1852) went to Worsbrough to the wagon works and the collieries.

The three who stayed were John born 1850, Charles born 1857 and Isaac born 1858. All three were unmarried in 1871, when the family lived at 3 Providence Street (on the south side of town off Park Road). By 1881, the family was at the wonderfully named Jumble Lane at No 9 Court and in 1891 they were at 3 Heelis Street, also on the south side. Catherine had died the previous year and John was (characteristically) out somewhere.

George Bashforth established a reputation for becoming drunk and disorderly.  On 2 July 1867, the Sheffield Independent reported Barnsley Court House, where ‘George Bashforth, labourer (sic), was charged with assault upon his wife on the Friday before’. She was knocked down by her husband in a public house where she had gone in search of him. He was committed to prison for seven days.

On 11 November 1871, the Barnsley Chronicle reported the headline His Eleventh Appearance. George Bashforth, a wheelwright, was charged with being drunk and riotous at Barnsley. The Mayor said: ‘Now George here again’. George replied, ‘I am sorry for it, as I have been teetotal since I was here before’, at which the public broke into laughter. Supt. Sykes handed in a list of previous convictions, which showed the defendant had been before the Court on ten previous occasions. The Mayor commented: ‘Drink! Drink! We should have nothing to do if it were not for drink’. The constable said he had found the defendant in Peel Square creating a disturbance and using abusive language. The Mayor asked the defendant if he had anything to say, to which he replied ‘No, I can say nothing, because I don’t know what I was doing.’ He was committed to prison for seven days.

Between 1881 and 1887, George accumulated a further ten convictions for being ‘drunk and riotous’ for which he received sentences of 14 or 28 days’ hard labour at Wakefield Prison. He was in his 60s and, thanks to the prison records, we learn of his grey hair, varicose veins and that his nose was broken and twisted to the right. Generally, he also had various cuts and bruises. It would appear from his declarations that he may have tried turning to Methodism to control his behaviour, but without success. On 9 October 1886, the Barnsley Chronicle reported that George Bashforth one of the eldest offenders in the town was charged with public disorder. PC Gaythorpe found the defendant drunk and riotous in Lindley Fold and was compelled to lock him up. The defendant was drunk every day and was a nuisance to the neighbourhood. He was committed to gaol for a month. It was only a month since he had come out of gaol.

On 25 August 1888, the Barnsley Chronicle used the headline ‘The Deceived Ones’. George Bashforth, 74, wheelwright, who had been convicted about 30 times at Barnsley for drunkenness and assault, was charged having been drunk and riotous at Barnsley on the previous Saturday. Mrs Smith of New Street, wife of a pork butcher, said the defendant without the slightest provocation struck her a violent blow on the face, on Saturday evening. PS McCrone proved that the prisoner was drunk and very violent in his conduct. He struck the last witness and another woman in the face. He also made use of very bad language and used bad language in Park Row. Prisoner said the newspaper told lies about him, he had not been up 40 times. Mr Taylor told him that the offence record was against him and imposed a fine of 5s and costs.

There may have been subsequent occasions of less riotous drunkenness before he died aged 72 of pneumonia at home in 1892, two years after his poor suffering wife, attended by his married daughter Margaret Alderson[5]. Unfortunately, by that time his sons were establishing their own equivalent reputations. [See Part 2]

[1] Accessible on Ancestry. I have also extensively used the British Newspapers on Find My Past.

[2] From whom the writer is descended.

[3] Quoted in Aspects of Barnsley, Volume 3: Chapter 2 ‘Town End in 1870’ by Ian Harley, p.35 (Wharncliffe, Barnsley, 1995).

[4] Barnsley Streets, Volume 2: EG Tasker (Wharncliffe, Barnsley, 2002)

[5] Death certificate


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