Entries in Paulerspury (1)


Joseph Scott (1835 – 1881) A POOR MURDERED STRANGER?

This is another "clearing my desk" short biography left over from my Ringstead People books. Any additions or corrrections always welcome. I wrote the basis of this some time ago. The brilliant Rushden Heritage site has a modified transcription of the same newspaper article that I originally worked from, and also some follow-up letters. I have used some of this information from the Wellingborough News transcriptions to add to what I have written but I would recommend you also look at the originals on the Rushden Heritage site under "Obituaries".


The story of Joseph Scott is one of those tales that reminds you of old folk songs and tales, or of the murder in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, where the village, or some part of it, closed round to protect its own.

In the 1881 Ringstead Census, he is shown as a 41-year-old shoemaker lodging, together with Charles Mayes and William Manning, with the sixty-five-year-old widow, Eliza Bull and her son Julian. Joseph was not local but had been born in Towcester. I have not found him definitely in earlier Censuses but it is complicated by the newspaper account of the Inquest into his death where the Raunds' police constable, Thomas West, is reported as saying that he known of him from his time in Towcester and he was 64 years old.  At his burial his age was given as 46 and I think this may be somewhere near the correct age and the "64" was just a newspaper typo. Thomas West also stated that Joseph had no relatives left in Towcester and in the 1881 Census he is shown as a widower.

Eliza Bull said that he had not drunk for some two months when, on 26th December 1881 he went drinking in the Bakers Arms in Raunds. At some point the landlord, John Cobley, asked him to leave although he could not say that he was drunk and he had not caused any trouble. The Coroner thought that this was odd and one wonders it was the actions of others in the bar towards Joseph was what the landlord thought might lead to trouble. The report of the Inquest imakes clear that he was well known by the local police and pub landlords and that he had a tendency to turn nasty when drunk.

There can be little doubt that Joseph was a drunk and today we would recognize that he was suffering from alcoholism. The Northampton Mercury records many of his appearances in the Wellingborough and Thrapston courts for being drunk and sometimes drunk and disorderly. The dates when he was arrested were: 25th April 1879 at Rushden; 17th September 1879 at Ringstead;;10th March1880 at Ringstead; 4th February 1881 at Ringstead: 1st April 1881 at Raunds; 6th July 1881 at Rushden. These usually resulted in fines with prison sentences in default. At the hearing for the April 1881 offence, however, the Thrapston Magistrates sentenced him to one month's hard labour, "as he had just been liberated from gaol for drunkenness".

This list of appearances in court for drunkemnness starts in 1879 and althouth th4e constable knew him from Towcester I can find no sign of a Joseph Scott being in trouble before that date in Northamptonshire. Perhaps the loss of his wife started his drinking (I have not found her death) or perhaps some of the details he gave to the Census officer were deliberately incorrect.

Joseph was turned out of the Bakers Arms at about 6.15 pm on Boxing Day and it was already dark outside. John Cobley saw Joseph fall down immediately after leaving the pub but also saw him get to his feet up and go on his way. Again, rather oddly the landlord stated that Joseph did not fall down through illness. If he was not drunk and not ill, what was the cause? Later in the inquest Eliza Bull stated that he was subject to falling fits. It may be that Joseph was a drunk but that he also had other health problems.

Much later that evening, at just gone ten o'clock, Thomas Hall, a shoemaker saw Joseph, lying in the street, surrounded by a large crowd of boys and others and one or two in the crowd were pushing him about. Thomas shouted to them not to hurt Joseph. He called to his friend, Bradshaw Harris and, having heard that Joseph was from Ringstead, they agreed to take him part of the way home. 

The two men walked with him up the hill towards Ringstead but, part of the way up the Ringstead Road, Joseph had said that he wanted to lay down. Although the gang of youths was still following them, the men decided to leave Joseph by himself. They were by a field called Butcher's Close which was owned by Mrs. Pentelow They took the locked field gate off its hinges and put Joseph on the ground in the field beside the hedge. They then replaced the gate and thought he would be safe.

The next morning a boot and shoe salesman from Raunds called John Bass was driving past the field in a horse and cart when he noticed a body lying in the ditch beside the road. The ditch was outside the field so Joseph would have had to climb over the gate to reach it. There was, John stated, a "good stream" in the ditch but that Joseph was lying on his back, bearing a little on his right shoulder. The stream was high enough to cover his shoulders but his face was not under water. His face was dirty and his coat and shirt on his right shoulder were torn and his shoulder was bare.

At the Inquest John Crew, a surgeon from Higham Ferrers, stated that he had examined the body in the stables of the Cock Inn where it had been taken.  He said that there was a great deal of dirt around his nose and mouth and he believed he had died of suffocation either from drowning or from his face being pushed into soft wet earth. The Coroner also concluded that Joseph did not fall into the ditch as a result of a fit. In spite of this, the Inquest Jury found that he had fallen into the ditch by accident and had died of exposure. The foreman of the jury, Henry Perkins, did add that, "We believe his death was caused by being treated more like a dog than a human being"

Joseph, aged 46, was buried in St Peter's churchyard in Raunds on the 29th December 1881 (immediately after the Inquest). Letters followed in the local newspapers condemning both his treatment and also the fact that he had been buried without being washed and decently clothed. Others defended the jury's decision and believed that drink was the problem and a proper verdict had been reached. We do know that Joseph had been sentenced to hard labour in the year that he died. What this entailed varied from prison to prison but we do know that in the 1820s a treadmill, and a crank milll for grinding and dressing corn, had been installed at Northampton. This hard, debilitating work on a poor diet broke many men's health and would probably have worsened rather than improved Joseph's health even if it prevented his drunkenness for a time. The County Gaol closed at the start of 1880 and prisoners were then sent to the new prison at The Mounts in Northampton so  further research (again) is needed.

In Ringstead and other local villages many people were incensed about his treatment and the verdict and a letter was sent to the Home Secretary. I have not found that anything happened as a result. Was he a vulnerable man with an underlying illness who was tormented to death by a mob? His landlady stated that he had many falling fits, sometimes two in a night. Was his death even more sinister? Did some of his assailants take their secret guilt to the grave?


1881 Ringstead Census. I have searched for him in various  Northamptonshire Censues but there is not one John Scott who fits the known facts. The name does seem associated with Paulerspury near Towcester but for one reason or another not one seems to be the correct Joseph. I wonder whether he had changed his name.

Northampton Mercury:  Supplement 7th January 1882; Saturday 26th February 1882.

Wellingborough News: 21st January 1882; 28th January 1882. (Transcription by Kay Collins on Rushden Heritage wwebsite.)

National Burial Index for England & Wales Transcription; Northamptonshire Burial Transcriptions (FindMyPast)