CRIME IN OLD ROTHERHAM: A Master charged by his Apprentice

A MOST shocking case was brought before the magistrates on Monday September 7 1846, when an apprentice charged his master with not providing him with sufficient food and lodgings contrary to his indentures.

His master, William Roberts, was a blacksmith of Kimberworth, and a married man with two children. His apprentice was Joshua Crawshaw, who told the court that Mrs Roberts had been declared insane, and for several months had been confined to her room. In her absence the care of the house was left to the eldest child, a daughter aged only 11. As a consequence the house was in a most filthy state, and the apprentice complained that he had been obliged to sleep in bedclothes which had not been changed since the previous Christmas.

Joshua also complained that he did not have a clean shirt for a fortnight at a time, and when he complained his master he had given him an old one with one sleeve torn off. Joshua claimed that the meat for the family was bought by the little girl, and after it was cooked was kept in a drawer in the masters’ bedroom. The meat was often green and smelt so bad that it was unfit to eat. He added that sometimes the bread he had been served was mouldy. Mr Roberts claimed that he had only kept the meat in the bedroom to preserve it from the rats that infested the house.

Joshua told the court that the house was never cleaned, except when some of the neighbours came in to do it. A short while previously there had been fever in the house, and Joshua had been taken poorly and was laid up for 15 weeks. Since that time the house had never been cleaned. One of the neighbours, a woman called Ann Stainrod, described as ‘a respectable, elderly looking woman’ then gave her evidence. She told the court that she lived near Mr Roberts and said that the state of the house and Mrs Roberts was painful to see. She confirmed Joshua’s evidence that the house was completely filthy throughout, and had not been cleaned for months. She said: “It was grievous to see the state of both the defendants, the children’s and the apprentice’s beds. No person could tell what the pillow slips or sheets were made of, they were so dirty. As for his wife, she had been treated worse than a pig as pigs usually  had cleaner bedding, which she had not.”

Mrs Stainrod said that every time anyone came to the house, Mrs Roberts would call out to them and ask them to bring her food. Also the window to the room where she had been confined had been broken. At this point the magistrate, Mr Walker asked William Roberts if his wife was a female ‘who was always at the window with her hair cut short?’ When he confirmed that she was, Mr Walker stated that he had frequently seen her when passing through Kimberworth. Another of the magistrates, Mr Bosville told Mr Roberts that: “If through the will of the Almighty your wife was afflicted in that manner, that it is your responsibility to have someone to care for her and his house, or have her removed to some place where she would be under medical supervision. “

At this point the Hon and Reverend Mr Howard, who was on the board of the Rotherham Guardians of the Poor, claimed that the matter had been looked into by the workhouse, but at that time there was no place for her. Coroner Mr Badger who was also in the court room warned him that the Board of Guardians would be liable if anything happened to the poor woman, and if she died and he had to hold an inquest ‘he would remember them’. Mr Howard said that the Guardians had tried to get her admitted to any of the Yorkshire Asylums, but there were simply no vacancies.

Mr Roberts’ only defence was to deny the witnesses statements and he claimed that the charge had been made by malice from his apprentice. The aggravation between them had started when he had complained of the apprentice’s refusal to work, and as a consequence Joshua had been imprisoned in Wakefield gaol for two years. After consulting with the other magistrates on the bench, Mr Walker told Mr Roberts that there was serious negligence on his part. He wanted to give Joshua another trial, but he must provide him with clean and proper lodgings in the village. He warned him that if he did not provide his apprentice with their requirements that very night, the indentures would be cancelled. The bench also required Mr Roberts to pay the court costs of 7s 6d.


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