CRIME IN OLD ROTHERHAM: The Innocence of Jane Knowlson

IN January of 1854 the Station Inn on Westgate did a roaring trade. It was run by a man called James Allen, and local trade combined with the proximity of the railway station ensured good business.

Other staff consisted of two women cleaners named Margaret Dyson and Mary Tansey who he employed on a part time basis. At some point around the previous Christmas Allen began to suspect that he had a thief on the premises. He called in Sergeant Timms who made a note that bottles of sherry, brandy and other spirits had disappeared. Making an inventory, Allen discovered that there were other items missing. These were knives, forks, two silk handkerchiefs, table cloths, curtains and bedding.

He also found that a pair of boots which he had last worn on Christmas Day had also disappeared. Sergeant Timms asked him about his relations with his staff which he told them was very good, although there had been disputes between Jane Knowlson and the two cleaning women.

On January 22 1854 Sergeant Timms and two constables called at the lodgings on Westgate where Mary Tansey resided with her husband. The sergeant told her that he had come to apprehend her on suspicion of stealing certain articles from Mr Allen’s house. Tansey denied all knowledge, but nevertheless the rooms were searched and in a box he found two bottles of brandy, two bottles of gin and three bottles of port wine.

The woman claimed that she had been given the wine and gin on New Years Eve by Jane Knowlson. She claimed that the other cleaner, Margaret Dyson had given her the brandy during a recent, severe snow storm. Later that same morning Sergeant Timms accompanied by the landlord’s sister Margaret Waugh, went to Margaret Dyson's lodgings which were also on Westgate. He charged her with stealing several articles and searched the Dyson’s rooms. Dyson also claimed that she had been given some port wine and brandy by the cook Jane Knowlson, along with two pitchers of wine. Sergeant Timms read out to her the list of stolen articles and Dyson admitted that he would find some of them in her husband’s box. Searching it, the sergeant also found more bottles of cherry brandy, port wine and gin and the two silk handkerchiefs. Margaret Dyson was arrested and taken to the lock up.

Later that morning he returned with Mr Allen to the lodging house on Westgate to search more thoroughly. He found some boots under the bed which Mr Allen identified as those he had lost after Christmas Day. Richard Dyson told him that he had bought the boots off a tramp, but Mr Allen insisted that the boots were his. Also a quantity of knives and forks were found, which Richard Dyson claimed he had bought at Barnsley. The two men then went to Tansey’s lodging and there found a valuable snuff box hidden between the mattress and the bed, some curtains and two pictures all of which were identified as being stolen from the Station Inn. More wine was also found, which was said to have been given to his wife by Jane Knowlson. She too was arrested although she claimed that she was innocent of all of the charges.

The two cleaning women Tansey and Dyson were charged with stealing and their respective husbands were charged with receiving the stolen items. Jane Knowlson was also charged with stealing the items, although a great doubt had been cast on her guilt because of her former good character. All five prisoners were brought before the Earl of Effingham on Monday January 23 1854 where they were found guilty and sent to take their trial, but only Jane Knowlson was allowed bail.

By the time the prisoners were due to take their trial at Sheffield on Tuesday February 28, only the two Tansey’s and the Dyson's appeared before the bench. In the interim Jane Knowlson had been cleared of all guilt, following statements from solicitor Mr Joseph Badger and Mr Bland the superintendent of Rotherham police. Now she acted as the principal witness against the other four prisoners.

Thomas Tansey was found to have no direct evidence against him and was discharged, although his wife Mary received six months imprisonment. Margaret Dyson and her husband Richard were tried together, and she too was given six months, whilst he was given a four month sentence for receiving. Jane Knowlson was thankfully dismissed of all charges.


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