The misadventures of ‘Rotherham Bob’

The misadventures of ‘Rotherham Bob’

By Gareth Dennison | 02/10/2020

The misadventures of ‘Rotherham Bob’


ROTHERHAM Bob’s first court appearance followed the election riot of 1865 when he was spotted jigging up and down Westgate and High Street in a presumably stolen wig.

He made a habit of dressing up in daft and multicoloured outfits and painting his face when polling times arrived in order to beg for beer money.

But on this occasion he was spotted smashing windows at the Crown Hotel on the High Street and throwing merchandise around at a nearby barber’s, which dealt in wigs and hats.

The riot, which saw a large Liberal mob attacking anyone wearing Tory blue, became so serious that the military was called, charging the crowds with swords drawn and the Riot Act was read.

Rotherham Bob was charged with rioting and disturbing the peace but released with a warning, while those who carried out more serious damage headed for the Assizes.

And Bob — real name Robert Huntingdon — went on to appear before the court on more than 100 further occasions.

He was found drunk and disorderly at the Angel pub on Bridgegate two days before Christmas 1881 and smashed glass in the door when ejected by landlord Samuel Standish.

As he limped into custody, Bob told PC Edgerley that he was not worried because the Mayor of Rotherham, Alderman Neill, “was a friend of his and would let him off”.

But it was an ex-mayor, Alderman Marsh, on the bench the next morning and he remanded Bob until Boxing Day.

Hearing of this outcome, Alderman Neill took pity and stepped in, discharging Bob unconditionally so he did not spend Christmas behind bars.

However no-one told solicitor Mr Hickmott, who duly arrived with witnesses on December 26 all set to prosecute. He was furious and complained about the mayor’s conduct.

After learning of this, Alderman Neill called the solicitor to court three days later, dishing out a strict reprimand.

He told him: “There are young men of fair average ability who are carried away by the idea that they are so remarkably clever that everything they do becomes them.

“So by self conceit they are led to rush in where older men of more experience would not have dared to tread.”

Before Mr Hickmott could respond, Alderman Neill held his hand up for silence before rising and walking out of court.

From then on Rotherham Bob became a prominent character in the town, whose exploits were recorded regularly in newspapers.

Their articles called him by his nickname, as did council minutes and court reports, suggesting that most people knew who he was.

Bob attended the election of the Rawmarsh School board in May 1882, dressed in his eccentric gala attire and followed about by children waving flags and blowing whistles.

He popped up at such events mainly to beg for beer money and his drunken exploits usually ended in a spell at Wakefield Gaol.

Bob was back before magistrates on May 20, 1886, when he claimed the police were harassing him after being arrested while singing at a Salvation Army meeting.

“The more I try to be a gentleman, the worse they were,” he said of the officers — to a big laugh from the public gallery. This was his 25th court appearance, for those keeping count.

Magistrate Mr Eskholme said that Bob had once told the prison governor at Wakefield that he would go straight if only someone would give him a chance.

The generous governor bought the prisoner a handcart worth £2 5s so he could earn money carrying railway passengers’ luggage...

Within days, Bob had sold the cart for 15s and got drunk on the proceeds.

In his Reminiscences of Rotherham in 1927, Alderman George Gummer (below) said Bob was “a poor, half-witted creature, whose cravings for intoxicants brought him repeatedly before the magistrates for drunkenness, his appearances numbering well over one hundred times.

“His facial expressions under the most favoured circumstances were most repulsive, whilst under the influence of drink his appearances became horrible and grotesque.”

A court appearance in 1886 was much more serious. Bob had accidentally caused the death of well-known fishmonger Charles Dobson (53).

They had been drinking together in the College Street vaults with a couple of other men. Bob pushed Charles in jest as they larked about, but he hit his head on the wall and died the next day.

At an inquest at the Effingham Arms, the coroner, Mr D Wightman, ruled that it had been no more than an accident among drinkers.

But he told Bob: “You had been in about every disgrace that you could get into, except killing a man, and now you had got to that at last.

“That you have killed this man is beyond doubt, but fortunately for you the jury, acting upon the evidence, has come to the conclusion that at the time you did it you had no felonious intent.”

Court appearance number 46 came in February 1891, when Bob was charged with sleeping in an outhouse on Moorgate Road.

He complained that it was not his fault — if he could not beg enough money for lodgings, he was forced to sleep out.

The mayor suggested that he go to the casual wards at the workhouse but Bob remarked that this was a worse fate than prison. He was jailed for a week.

A few years later, Bob did take the mayor’s advice and became a regular at the Rotherham workhouse. Causing wilful damage there led to his 54th court appearance.

The report said: “Rotherham Bob, who is an old guest of the Guardians, was admitted to the casual ward on Saturday, and on Monday had only performed half of his task work. When remonstrated with, he threw some oakum [rope], and then his boots through a window.”

Bob’s Christmas tradition was to get very drunk, dress in as many colours as possible and then look for a bed for the night — asking police to lock him up or staying at the workhouse.

At one court appearance, for sleeping on Westgate, he took umbrage at being said to be of no fixed abode.

He proudly told magistrates he had four homes, all beginning with W — Wadsley Asylum, the Workhouse, Wakefield Gaol and Westgate.

He was given seven days at Wakefield.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Bob’s mental health was brought into question.

Unprovoked, he punched a young woman called Florence Smith in August 1897 as she and her husband had walked past the Queens Hotel at Masbrough.

Chief Constable Enwright called for a medical assessment and Bob went to Wadsley Asylum, where he died in 1899.

Historian Margaret Drinkall said: “There could be little doubt that news of his death would be viewed with some relief by the workhouse, the asylum officials, the Rotherham police and the local magistrates.

“But perhaps the people of Rotherham, who had long followed his drunken exploits, would now view the town without Rotherham Bob as a less colourful place.”