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Entries in Seekings (1)

Saturday
Oct272012

Book 2: Boswell, Tabitha. A Postscript: Martha Jane Beeby

I have not researched this piece in depth because it does not concern Ringstead although there may be family links. Can you help to fill in the missing parts of the lives of Martha Jane and Leonard Beeby between 1891 and 1911? Did she (and Leonard?) go off with the gypsies.What of Fred Seekings. I have not managed to pinpoint his life before 1911. Where did he come from? It says in the 1911 Census that he had been born in March. Did he change his name?

David Ball

Ringstead@warboys.com

 

Gypsies. A Postscript: Martha Jane Beeby (Gunn)

 

Browsing the shelves of a Cambridgeshire Library I came across a book by John Bell called More Crimes of Cambridgeshire. On the cover was a picture of some gypsy caravans. As I was researching the gypsies who passed through the Ringstead area I looked for the chapter which the cover photograph illustrated. The story was about a Martha Jane Beeby and as Beeby was a common name in the parishes around Ringstead I decided to research a little further.

Martha Jane Gunn had been born in 1867 in Denford, the daughter of Thomas Gunn, horsekeeper, and his wife Emma. In 1885 she married a local man Charles Leonard Robinson Beeby. Leonard, as he was usually called, became a brickmaker living with Martha at 17 High Street, Desborough. By 1891 the couple had three children, Charles, who was an invalid, George and Florence.

At some time in the next ten years something blew the family apart. I can find neither Leonard nor Martha, nor their eldest son, Charles in the 1901 Census. The second son, George, now aged 13 is living with his grandparents in Kettering and Florence is the adopted daughter of Fred Asbrey, a shoemaker and his wife Lavinia and living in Broughton near Kettering.

What had happened to the couple? According to John Bell, in his book, Martha had gone off with the gypsies and had then been abandoned. I have not found out the source which justified the fine photograph on his front cover. What we do know is that by 1911 Leonard, now 52, is back living with his widowed mother, Emma Beeby. Was it possible that the couple both decided to leave their home and children but that they fell out and Leonard returned home?

Whatever the circumstances, Martha Jane appears in the 1911 Census for The Green, Brampton near Huntingdon. It is later events which tell us that she is our woman although in the Census she is Martha Ann Seekings, aged 44, living with her ‘husband’ Fredrick [sic] Seekings. He is a farm worker and some five years her junior. John Bell states that he was of ‘limited intellect’. Also staying with them is John Beeby a nephew, (or who believes that he is a nephew). He is fourteen years old and also a farm worker.

Some two years later, on Monday 28th July 1913, Brampton Feast was held. Fred had been at work until 8pm. He then went to the Bell Inn and was there with Martha until closing time. We learn, from the press coverage of the events that followed, that the couple had been living in Brampton for a number of years as man and wife. At closing time, the couple, who had been quarrelling, made their way home accompanied by a Mr Stocker, whose main concern seems to have been the good name of the Bell Inn. On the way back to their house, at about 10.30 pm, Martha was pushed and fell into a ditch. Stocker pulled her out (Abrahams also stated that he had pulled her out) and stayed with them a further quarter of a mile along the road and left them walking side-by-side towards their home. A Mrs Favell, whose cottage was nearby, heard the couple quarrelling and, when her husband returned home from the feast with Mr Abrahams and his wife, the two men, with Abraham’s bicycle lamp went to investigate. They found the couple lying together by the roadside. Seekings had his arm under Martha. Looking closer Favell saw that Martha was very white and he saw in the lamplight that she was covered in blood. He got Abrahams to go for the police and he remained. Fred Seekings who had been muttering now became aggressive but the constable arrived. He examined Martha and found that her throat had been cut, almost from ear to ear, and she was indeed dead.

After the inquest Fred Seekings was charged with Martha’s murder. He had said at first that she had taken his knife and done it herself and her nephew certainly gave evidence that she had twice threatened suicide when drunk. Dr, MacRitchie, who examined the body which had been laid out upon a table in Seekings’ house, stated that there were two cuts and he was of the opinion that it could not have been self-inflicted. Fred Seekings’ other defence that he was too drunk to know what he was doing , or to remember anything, was also not accepted and he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On Tuesday 4th November 1913 at 8 o’clock in the morning, Frederick was hung at Cambridge Gaol in a small ‘execution shed’. He had slept well and put on a stone in weight during his time in prison. At his death he was 161 pounds and was given a drop of 6ft3ins. He always maintained he had been too drunk to know what he had done but he paid great attention to the chaplain’s ministrations and went to the scaffold with a quiet dignity.

References

Censuses  1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911.

Cambridge Independent Press; Northampton Mercury. (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

More Crimes of Cambridgeshire. John Bell (Popular Books 1995).