Total Pageviews

Monday, 31 December 2012

The Holsworthy Slander Case 1904
The town of Holsworthy in North Devon was alive with gossip in the year 1904. It culminated in the vicar, the Rev. Kendall, finally bringing an action for slander against Ernest Richard Gidley, a carpenter of that town, and strangely described as an infant (he was in fact 20, so an infant only in the eyes of the law).
In the witness box Ernest Gidley tried to defend himself against the charge. He had alleged that he had seen the Rev. Kendall engaged in "unduly affectionate behaviour in the rectory grounds" with a Miss Andrews, the niece of Rev. Kendall's wife. Ernest repeated this story throughout the town, it was corroborated by another witness, and it eventually came to the Archdeacon's attention. The vicar's reputation and very livelihood in the church were now at stake, not to mention his niece's reputation. She was a single girl of 21 (and not particularly attractive, judging by a court sketch of the day). The vicar was forced to sue.
It was of course Ernest Gidley's word against the Rev. Kendall's. It seems the vicar was not popular in Holsworthy. He had married a wealthy wife some years older then himself who purchased the living of Holsworthy for him, but there was constant talk of his making visits behind the scenes to theatres both in Devon and London, and of showing rather more than a passing interest in certain young ladies in the locality - such as a girl in the workhouse and a local sewing mistress. There was a suggestion that he kept photographs of them "in tights". He admitted he had a number of enemies in the parish, where local talk was of his "immoral character". The local Medical Officer of Health gave evidence in court that the moral character of Mr Kendall was "not good".
However, the judgement of the court went against Ernest Gidley, and damages of £2000 were awarded to Miss Andrews, the niece, and of £1000 to the Rev. Kendall. The judge called Ernest Gidley "impudent" for his comments about the moral conditions prevailing in Holsworthy, and that there was no evidence to suppose that adultery took place. The jury took only ten minutes to come to their decision. The judge, however, did reduce the vicar's award because he believed him guilty of "acts of indiscretion". Because of his humble circumstances (it was reported he earned between 15 and 16 shillings a week) Ernest was ordered to pay at a rate of 4 shillings a month. At a permitted interest rate of 4% the debt actually increased every year. This millstone of debt made the newspapers as far away as New Zealand.
On returning to Holsworthy the two participants in the court case met with differing receptions. The Rev. Kendall was received by a hostile crowd at the station and needed a police bodyguard. Indeed, a stone was thrown, hitting a police superintendent. On the other hand Ernest Gidley was shouldered and carried through the streets of the town amid cheers. There was no doubt who was the people's victor.
Who was Ernest Richard Gidley who had been saddled with this enormous debt? He was the son of George Gidley and his wife Sophia Sargent, who married in North Tamerton in Cornwall in 1881, thus making him part of the huge family of Gidleys we can trace back to Winkleigh. In 1891 George and Sophia, Ernest's parents, plus at least seven of their other children, emigrated to Canada (the newspaper reports of Ernest's trial state America, but the family was in London, Ontario in the 1901 Canadian census.) They never returned to Britain to live, and Ernest, their oldest son, stayed with his Sargent grandparents in North Tamerton until he took an apprenticeship as a carpenter with Samuel Parsons in Holsworthy.
I'm not too sure about Ernest's marital history. The court reports tell of his engagement to a local girl, daughter of Mrs Hill of Holsworthy. Mrs Hill was another who claimed to have witnessed the immoral act in the rectory garden, and Ernest was on his way to band practice on the night of the alleged incident, collecting his cornet from the Hills' house. Ernest did not have any particular acquaintance with the vicar, but Mrs Hill had fallen out with Mr Kendall after being caught using a fern from the rectory garden in the preparation of a wreath. By the 1911 census Mrs Hill had died, and Ernest is living as a lodger with her widower, George Hill. His daughter Catherine Hill, is still unmarried and acting as her father's housekeeper [but see her marriage reference below]. There is also a daughter, Phyllis Hill, aged 4, born in Plymouth, in the household. I can't find an obvious birth registration for Phyllis under the name of Gidley or Hill, but it seems she later went with Ernest and Catherine when they moved on to South Wales. [2013 update - I have found the marriage reference for Ernest and Catherine, in 1907 in Middlesex county, Ontario, Canada, where Ernest's parents had emigrated.] The Rev. Kendall was still the incumbent in Holsworthy in 1911, and it's possible they wanted no more to do with the church there. A further daughter, Dorothy, was born in about 1912, and again there is no birth reference for her under the name of Gidley in England and Wales. Sadly, she died in Llandeilo, Glamorgan, aged only twenty. The older daughter, Phyllis, gave birth to a son, Desmond Albert Gidley, in Cardiff as an unmarried teenager. Desmond later married a Miss De Smet in Belgium (Armed Forces Marriages 1796-2005 on FindMyPast) and from then on there is no further sign of him in England and Wales.
Catherine died in the Swansea area during the Second World War, and Ernest seems to have become involved with Elsie Rodway and her son Graham Norman Rodway, who in 1972 officially abandoned two of his birth names in favour of the name Graham Keith Gidley. Graham died in 1988, and Ernest Richard Gidley himself had died in 1956 in Gorseinon, West Glamorgan. A family member, Michael Brimacombe, was in contact with Ernest's Canadian relations a few years ago, and there is a possibility that there was another son, or stepson, as well as Graham.
All details of the court case have been taken from newspaper reports of the time. Full details on request.

Friday, 28 December 2012

The sad fate of John Gidley (1700 - 1744) of Newport, Rhode Island
The upper photo on the left is of Trinity Church, Newport where John Gidley is buried. The lower, right-hand photograph is of John Gidley House, 38 Pelham Street, Newport, which was built for him (photo taken from the Reed Digital Collections).

The following information is taken from several local histories, such as a History of the Narragansett Church, Rhode Island, and the Annals of Trinity Church, Newport 1698-1821. Full details on request.

From the Annals of Trinity Church - "John Gidley was the son of John Gidley, Judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court, who came to Newport from Exon, in Devon, and died here in 1710. John Gidley, the son, was accidentally killed in September, 1744. His first wife was Sarah Shackmaple, daughter of John Shackmaple, of New London, where he was a man of prominence. She died May 12, 1727. His second wife was ... Mary Cranston [a daughter of Col. John Cranston]. She died October 3, 1733, aged 24 years. His third wife was Elizabeth Brown, daughter of Captain John Brown. In 1742-3 the Judge of Admiralty having gone to England, John Gidley was appointed in his place till the king's will could be known."

According to Wikipedia, "Vice admiralty courts were juryless courts located in British colonies that were granted jurisdiction over local legal matters related to maritime activities, such as disputes between merchants and seamen. Judges were given 5% of confiscated cargo if they found a smuggling defendant guilty. This gave judges financial incentive to find defendants guilty."

The John Gidley, who met an accidental death in 1744, was a great nephew of Bartholomew Gidley of English Civil War fame. Bartholomew and his wife Joan had no children, and Bartholomew therefore willed his estate and coat of arms to his brother John, a London surgeon, and his heirs. This brother John Gidley, a freeman of the Barber-Surgeons' Company, died in London in about 1713, and his will mentions his son John Gidley, a fuller, the first Vice Admiralty Judge, who emigrated to Newport, Rhode Island, and died there in 1710.
His son, yet another John, the subject of this posting, was described as a prosperous and enterprising merchant. Born in about 1700, he was a rum distiller in 1726, the same year that he sold his house to a slaveship owner (Massachusetts Historical Society papers). He obviously had bad luck with brides, and I have only seen mention of one descendant, a son, yet another John Gidley, a midshipman in the British Merchant Navy, for whom I have no further details. But unluckiest of all was his death - blown up by gunpowder.
Accounts differ as to whether on September 17th 1744 John Gidley Esq. with three other men, owners of the privateer Prince Frederick, were either surveying its stores in a warehouse, or were on the wharf observing its departure, when a pistol accidentally went off and set fire to about 5 cwt. of gunpowder in several casks. The blast blew away the warehouse roof and set off yet more ammunition and muskets. John Gidley and his fellow ship-owners were all blown sky-high, and succumbed to their injuries over the next few days. John Gidley was the last to die, after eleven days had elapsed. His funeral took place on October 2nd 1744 in Trinity Church, Newport, where he had been a churchwarden. He was buried in the same grave as his first two wives, Mary Cranston and Sarah Shackmaple, and his memorial stone appears to bear a coat of arms, possibly the one awarded to Bartholomew Gidley. Gidley Street in Newport was named after him. His third wife, Elizabeth, lived on in Newport until at least 1772.