CRIME IN OLD ROTHERHAM: Death at the Masbrough Feast

THE town of Rotherham regularly celebrated village feasts which were meant to unify members of the community. In reality however they were often occasions for drunkenness and a settling of old scores.

On the night of Tuesday June 6 1843 the community of  Masbrough held their feast. A shoemaker from Rawmarsh called Isaac Leesley, aged 45, attended, before calling at the Station Tavern public house on Princes Street, Masbrough. A dance was being held there in the upstairs room when suddenly a fight broke out, and seven or eight men came rushing down the stairs punching and kicking at each other. They went out of the back door and began fighting and the landlord John Kiplin was forced to break it up and send the men on their way.

As he returned back into the public house, he saw some other men, who he claimed were Isaac Jackson, aged 24, Edward Pierpoint, aged 23 and John Myers, also aged 24, throw Leesley out of the front door. The following day Leesley died in the early hours and, later, Jackson and Pierpoint were apprehended and taken to Rotherham gaol. A search was put into place for Myers, who had absconded.

On Friday June 9 an inquest was held at the Horse and Jockey at Rawmarsh before coroner Mr Thomas R Mandall Esq. John Kiplin told the coroner that the deceased had been in his house from 10.30pm to midnight, and he was slightly tipsy. The dance was in full swing, when a woman came rushing down the stairs claiming ‘some men were starting to fight’.

A man who worked as a waiter at the Station Tavern called Edward Shepherd told the inquest that on that Tuesday night the public house was crowded with people. Many he recognised from Rawmarsh, Masbrough, Rotherham and Scholes. Jackson and Pierpoint arrived about 11pm accompanied by Myers and  another man. Shepherd told the coroner that a fight had broken out at 12.30 between Myers and Leesley, but peace was restored and the dancing continued. However an hour later it broke out again, this time between Leesley and Pierpoint. Shepherd said that the deceased man had challenged Pierpoint to a fight, and Pierpoint knocked him down. More men started fighting, and shortly afterwards the door to the dancing room was torn off its hinges.

He told the men that they were told to go outside if they wanted to fight, and he claimed that there were 12 or 13 went out the back door. The barman said although he had not witnessed the actual fight, he had later seen Leesley down on his hands and knees. Even later, he saw him lying on his back and still in the road. A man called Samuel Mortimer and another man went over to pick Leesley up but when they tried to help him he screamed out ‘oh my belly, put me back down again’, which they did.

Another witness was Joseph James of College Street, Rotherham and he told the inquest that Leesley had been drunk and aggressive, and had said he would ‘fight any man in the room’. Some other men commenced fighting and he too saw Leesley laid on the floor. Whilst the man was down, he claimed that Isaac Jackson had jumped on his stomach twice with great violence. He then witnessed Pierpoint go over to where Leesley was lying on the floor, and he too kicked him savagely with his right foot, on the left side of his ribs. James went over to assist the injured man and Leesley told him ‘oh Joe they have killed me’ and he answered ‘I expect they have’. James offered to get Mr Robinson the surgeon, but Leesley told him that he would walk to his own home, which was about two-and-a-half miles away.

Surgeon Henry Wilkinson of Rotherham was called out to see the injured man on the following morning about 9am, and found him suffering from pains in his stomach. He bled him freely, which seemed to relieve some of the pain, but he heard that the man had died later that day. He then undertook a post mortem and found many parts of the man’s bowels was bruised and inflamed which he stated was caused by violence. The jury found the two men guilty of manslaughter and they were sent to take their trial. By the time the two young men were brought before judge Mr Justice Cresswell on Tuesday July 18 1843, John Myers was still at large. Their defence counsel Mr Wilkins placed the blame for Isaac Leesle’'s injury squarely on the shoulders of the absent John Myers. After hearing the evidence the jury had no other option but to find them both not guilty and they were discharged.


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