OLD ROTHERHAM: Rotherham Bob - a local character

A LOCAL character familiar to the Rotherham police, magistrates and public house keepers was a man called Robert Huntingdon, better known as ‘Rotherham Bob’.

On countless occasions he had been in court charged with drunkenness, refusing to leave public houses, and being an unruly pauper at the workhouse. However at Christmas of 1881, this well known character caused a row between the magistrates and a local solicitor, which became the talk of the town.

At the time Mr H H Hickmott was a young solicitor just starting to making his name in legal circles, when he complained to the West Riding magistrates about the case of  ‘Rotherham Bob’ being dismissed. The prisoner had been charged by Samuel Standish, the landlord of the Angel Inn, Bridgegate, for refusing to quit the licensed premises and committing wilful damage on Thursday December 21. He had been brought before the ex-mayor Alderman Marsh the next morning, who remanded him until Monday. On the same evening however the mayor, Alderman Neill, had him brought before him and discharged him unconditionally. When Mr Hickmott arrived at court on Monday with Mr Standish to prosecute ‘Rotherham Bob’ he found him gone. The West Riding magistrates suggested that he take the complaint to the borough magistrates themselves.

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On Thursday December 29 the mayor and ex-mayor were serving again on the bench and they dealt with several paltry cases, before the mayor asked if Mr Hickmott was present. He was not in the court and so a police constable was sent to bring him from his office nearby and he arrived a few minutes later. By that time Alderman Marsh had left, but Alderman Neill asked Mr Hickmott if he had made a complaint against him. The solicitor related how he had arrived at court on Monday December 25 to find the prisoner discharged.

Alderman Neill stated that as part of his magisterial business, he had received notice on Friday morning at 8am to be at the courthouse an hour or so afterwards, in order that the prisoner's case could be heard. He explained that he had a pressing engagement which meant that he had to leave by an early train, so he instructed the police officer to notify Alderman Marsh to deal with the man, Huntingdon.

Later that evening when he returned back to Rotherham, Alderman Neill met the police superintendent in the street, where they discussed several other police matters, before he asked the Superintendent if the Huntingdon case had been dealt with. The officer told him that it hadn’t due to the pressure of court business, but he remarked that ‘it was not a bad case’ and that Alderman Marsh would probably have let him out on bail, given the time of year. 

Alderman Neill arranged for Huntingdon to be brought to the Court House between six and seven o’clock that evening, in order that the case could be quickly dealt with. Not recognising the name, he was under the misapprehension that the man might have a wife and family expecting him to be home at Christmas.

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When the prisoner arrived at the court house, the police superintendent was sent for and asked if the prisoner had any family. The officer told him in reply ‘why it’s Rotherham Bob’. Alderman Neill admitted it was the first time that he learned that the prisoner Robert Huntingdon was ‘Rotherham Bob’. When the prisoner was brought before him the superintendent told him that ‘Rotherham Bob has been very good for a long time’ and therefore Alderman Neill did not hesitate to discharge the man. As for informing Alderman Marsh of what he had done, he knew that he was at that time in Dalton on business and he told Mr Hickmott that his intention was to explain himself the next time he saw him. He then told Mr Hickmott that ‘as for the extraordinary complaint made by you, I can only account for your actions by putting it down to your youth and inexperience’.

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

Mr Hickmott informed him that ‘I can keep my temper, but I am sorry that you cannot. Your remarks are unjustifiable and not warranted by the facts.’ Thankfully the clerk interrupted at this point and declared that the business of the court was over and the court room was then cleared.

There would be little doubt that when ‘Rotherham Bob’ heard about this exchange, which was happily reported in the local newspaper, he would have dined out on it for some time to come.