The Wyrley-Cannock Colliery Incident: Gun Crime, 1870.

Introduction: Linking With the Past, Looking to the Future
I was looking for an article, anything really, as the truth is I have been so busy recently with one thing and another that I am not getting through the article I am currently working on as quickly as I would have liked, that being on the landscape of Essington Wood (Springhill) and the naturist club that once operated there, and I wanted to write something short in the meantime to keep the Blog ticking over.

I chose this piece – although it didn’t turn out to be that short! It has grown out of a paragraph that was within an earlier article I wrote on the lost pubs of Great Wyrley and is the story is about a fatal shooting that took place within the Wyrley area in 1870. I suppose this story does actually link into that progressing Essington Wood article: for some of people were that involved in the incident, which includes the perpetrator of the crime, James Alsop, as well as the Wyrley Cannock Colliery manager, John Brainsby, who formally identified the victim, lived in Springhill – in fact Brainsby lived in Springhill House.

The fact is its retelling and expanding has come about because of a scourge in today’s society as much as anything; it is also one that has touched my life, and I was reminded of it recently when I was at Witton Cemetery.

I am sure we are all alarmed by the seemingly epidemic number of serious and fatal incidents that are occurring in which often, though not always, involve someone carrying a weapon of some sorts – and using it in the heat of the moment. This is one of those stories, and shows that such crime is nothing new. Yes, I wanted to write something of local interest, however, in case the message of this article – that violence begets violence, solves nothing and simply destroys lives – gets lost in the historical side, I will conclude the introduction with how such an incident touched my life.

Barley Mow FC (league and cup winners), 1989: Tommy kneels with the black and white ball – I am front, far right.

Tommy Slattery was a friend of mine; we played football for the Barley Mow in Ward End, Birmingham, for several years, where he was the left midfield to my left back. No angel, no demon, he was a terrific footballer and always quick with a joke in the dressing room. Playing for his local team in 2005, Tommy was set-upon after the final whistle because of a foul he had committed during the game; he died in Good Hope Hospital as the result of punches he received to the head. I remember how sick I felt on hearing the news, and it still hurts to recall the eulogy his children gave at the funeral.

In memory of Tommy Slattery

John Farnell
John Farnell was born in 1819, in Cheslyn Hay (baptised at Cannock, St Lukes on 17 October). His father, Samuel, had been born in Essington back in 1795 and I suspect that he went on to marry an Elizabeth Perks in 1817. I know the couple are in the Cheslyn Hay area around 1818 as their first child, Mary, was born then. Their second child, John, was born the following year and their third, Charles, in 1822. Richard, the next of the children, was born in 1824, although this time in Great Wyrley. Sarah was born in 1827 and Peter in 1831, both in Wyrley as well. The children were all baptised at Cannock, and their baptism dates show that the family often appeared younger on the census than they actually were.

OS map, 1884 for Wharwell Farm.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

John Farnell must have spent much of his childhood surrounded by fields, as he once lived in Wharwell Farm. There is little evidence available, but it is possible that the Farnells were there by 1824. Wharwell Farm is located on Wharwell Lane, Great Wyrley, which back in the 1830s was an irregular track (and prone to flooding until it was properly surfaced by Cannock Rural District Council in 1915). At that time the farm was pretty isolated and it appears to have changed little in shaped since then – in fact, while the age of the property isn’t known, local folklore talks of it as being around for centuries.

John Farnell must also have been surrounded by alcohol, as it seems that sometime between the passing of the 1830 Beer Act and 1834, when his name appears in White’s directory as a beer-house keeper, Samuel Farnhill (Farnell) paid his two guineas and got a licence to sell beers and ciders at the Farm. The 1838 the tithe schedule lists the property as a public house, with the owner of Wharwell Farm being Henry Hordern and Samuel Farnhill as the occupant; Samuel rents the farm, stable, garden, rickyard and eight acres of land behind it.

The property is not discernible as a pub or farm in the 1841 census, and is never named as ‘The Old Engine’ other than by local historian EJ Homeshaw, who was writing in 1951, however, there is a massive clue in the census: the fact that Samuel is described as an engineer rather than a farmer or publican is inescapable and I cannot believe that this is not relevant both to the name of the public house and to its origins.

1841 census for Gt Wyrley, showing the Farnells at the Old Engine/Wharwell Farm
(National Archives)

As an aside, I suspect the Old Engine had closed by 1851 as only Charles remains of the children at the property and Farnell is not listed in White’s 1851 directory as being a beer-house keeper. It is possible that the demise of the Old Engine, with it’s out-of-the-way location, led to the establishment of the Star Inn on the Walsall Road (at the junction with Watery Lane, now Hilton Lane), which then was on the turnpike road and next to a toll-gate. Sarah Farnell had married Charles Altree in 1850 and not only were the couple running the Star Inn, Peter and Richard Farnell (both engine workers) were lodging there.

Anyway, John Farnell’s life would change radically over the next few years. Firstly, most likely while in his teens he was, like all of his younger brothers would later be, trained as an engineer. Then, in 1844 his mother died; his father would remarry a year or so later, with the couple going on to have a single child, Elizabeth.

Parish records suggest that around 1847 John was living in Wolverhampton, working as an engineer; it was here that he met and married Eliza Smith, who was the daughter of a farmer, at St Peter’s Church on 31 January 1848. I suspect Eliza was in fact the daughter of a Great Wyrley farmer and the couple met in Wyrley. The couple would have one child, Samuel, who was born in Great Wyrley later in 1848.

Marriage of John Farnell to Eliza Smith at Wolverhampton St Peter’s on 31 Jan 1848. (Findmypast)

We know that family were living in Stoney Lane, Landywood, in 1851. Stoney Lane is the former name of the top part of Streets Lane – that near to where Landywood Station is now (the bottom part was Middle Pit Lane). Their residence on Stoney Lane makes sense, as John was still described as an engine worker and so was even then likely working for the Wyrley Cannock Colliery – as their pits were located just behind where he was living.

As John progressed through the 1850s he would celebrate seeing his sister Sarah marry in 1850, as well as his brothers Richard in 1856 and Charles in 1857. This was pretty much as good as it got as in 1857 he would lose the first of his family, his brother Peter. It is also possible that his father and step-mother, Harriet, may have separated: in 1853, Samuel placed an advert in the Staffordshire Advertiser to the effect that he was no longer responsible for her debts after 4 March that year.

In 1861, John is not at home; his wife and son are living in Wyrley Town, somewhere very near to the corner of Norton Lane and the Walsall Road. We know John is still an engineer, as Eliza is described as an engineer’s wife and Samuel as an engineer’s son. It is possible the John was away visiting Charles, for around this time his wife, Jane, died along with their newly-born second child, Sarah.

John would be the next of the male Farnells to lose his wife. Eliza died aged 40-years in 1863, she was buried at St Mark’s in Great Wyrley. Samuel, their son, would be around 15-years of age at this time and was likely being trained by his father as an engineer.

John would, after his sad loss, remarry – I suspect in 1866. His new wife would be Lucy Kitchen, who was born in Brewood in 1816. Lucy was the daughter of William and Sarah – he being described as a servant on her baptism record. By 1841, Lucy was working for the Monckton family as a domestic at Brewood Hall. Lucy would have a son in 1846, named Richard, before returning to domestic service. In 1851, she would be in Upper Penn, the domestic servant for a hardware manufacturer; by 1861, she appears to be a nurse for a family at Hooke Hall, Goole. I suspect the couple met through Thomas Kitchen, who was, I believe, the brother of Lucy: he was an engine-tender by profession, who happened to live in Cheslyn Hay – so I simply can’t believe that Farnell did not know him.

We do not know when, but by 1866 John Farnell was the Superintendent Engineer at the Wyrley Cannock Colliery. By this time the Wyrley Cannock Colliery was a company and not a single mine, and apparently he supervised them all, as well as the engine drivers.

The Company had a series of pits prior to their closure or sale (by 1875) in the Landywood, and what was then Great Wyrley (now Cheslyn Hay), area: these pits were centred on the Wyrley & Essington Canal (the Wyrley Branch) and the land between Upper Landywood Lane, Landywood Lane and Streets Lane (including the Plant pit that once operated adjacent to Landywood’s railway station).

I believe, from the evidence supplied in the newspapers (the proximity to a wharf, the canal, a mineral railway, and it being about 1.5 miles from Broad Lane in Essington, that the fatal incident took place at what was then the Wyrley Cannock Colliery no 1: this pit later became known as the Nook Colliery – and was located at the terminus of the Wyrley Branch canal , at the bottom of Dundalk Lane.

The Nook Colliery – where I believe the shooting took place in 1870. (Cheslyn Hay LHS)

It would seem that John Farnell would not be adverse to appointing his own family as engineers, taking on both his brother Richard and his son Samuel before 1870.

In 1868, John would employ, or perhaps more accurately re-employ, a lad named James Alsop (at times written as Allsopp or Alsopp) – it would later be said that he treated James like a son, and retained him when Alsop let him down on more than one occasion. Farnell, by all accounts an unusually quiet, steady and respectable man, was by August 1870 getting increasingly frustrated by Alsop’s drinking and lateness; that month alone he sent Alsop home on one occasion and, since that date, had ‘often remonstrated with him for neglecting his work’.

Things would come to a head on 16 September 1870.

James Alsop
James Alsop was born around 12 July 1846 in Essington, for this was the date of his baptism at Cannock St Luke’s Church. His parents were James Alsop, an agricultural labourer from Whiston in Staffordshire, and I suspect a Sarah Allen, from Hatherton. I believe they were married at Wolverhampton St Peter’s on Christmas Day, 1837. The couple’s first child, Caroline, was baptised at Cannock St Luke’s a year to the day from their marriage. Henry, the next child, was baptised in August 1840. The parish registers describe the family as being from Hatherton at both children’s baptisms.

In 1841, the couple were living with James’ parents near Middle Hill in Cheslyn Hay. It is possible that the family move closer into Cheslyn Hay by 1844, as their next child, Sarah, was baptised in October 1844 and the family were described then as being from Cheslyn. This distinction in the children’s places of birth is replicated in the 1851 census, too. By July 1846 the family have arrived in Essington, as this is where the family are described as being at James’ baptism. James, I believe, would be the last of the children.

Collier’s Castle (in the 1920s), James Alsop grew-up in its shadow. (Evans & Albutt)

In 1851, the family are living off Broad Lane, Essington Wood, in a property very close to Collier’s Castle. Collier’s Castle, also known as Mockbeggar’s Hall, was an Italian-styled stone construct built by the Vernon family, likely in the latter end of the 18th century. Possibly built for a different purpose, by Alsop’s time it was a communal living space that housed eight families – each with a garden area. James would spend the next 19 years in its shadow.

I suspect that James’ eldest sister, Caroline, passed away in 1851, aged just 12-years.

By 1861, James Alsop senior had become a carter; he was helped by his eldest son Henry. Whether or not he had much or any schooling we do not know, and he would later be described being not of weak intellect, but at 15 years of age James was working as a labourer in one of the many Essington brickyards. It was later reported that James had twice enlisted in the army, but was ‘bought off’ by his parents.

I cannot be sure of when, but sometime between 1861 and early 1871 James Alsop senior died. His family had definitely splintered by the time of his arrest, as his brother had married in 1865 and moved away – although living locally; Sarah had either done the same, or had become a live-in domestic. It is possible that his father’s death and splintering of the family was the catalyst for a change of behaviour in James, or some of it may have been as a consequence of his actions.

We do know that in 1866 he was taken on by Farnell to help with the pit engines. It is possible that this employ was a little intermittent for a couple of years, becoming more stable in 1868. He was, by all accounts, worthy at first of the faith Farnell had in him.

We know he was employed on the night-shift, for which he got paid extra, and would be travelling to the Colliery in Winter time and the darkest of night – although this would not be the case in September. At some stage, around the turn of 1870, Alsop made a fateful decision and one that would ultimately lead to the death of Farnell: he secured himself a pistol, albeit a somewhat antique one that required a ram-rod and the use of percussion caps – so it could fire anything that could fit in the barrel. Alsop would use small pieces of lead and stones.

Alsop originally claimed this was for self-protection due to the loneliness of his route to work (which seems to have been along Broad Lane, Long Lane and New Landywood Lane and then directly along the canal to the pit), and later claimed that his life had been threatened recently by a man named Hodgson, although this was never corroborated. Sadly, I believe carrying the weapon was more about bravado: he didn’t keep it a secret, indeed everyone knew he had it, although they believed he carried it for shooting rats. Further, he sometimes discharged it for fun.

Sadly, and possibly to do with home life, he turned to drink and he and John Farnell began to clash more often as 1870 drew on. In the August, Farnell had sent Alsop home and James commented to a John Gregory that ‘Jack, lad, mark my word: there will be something the matter before long’. Gregory also said that Farnell didn’t strike Alsop then, in fact he was ‘reverse of violent to the men’. Alsop would later claim that he stayed over his hours at time to cover for the Farnells.

On 16 September 1870, carrying his pistol, he turned-up at least twenty minutes, if not half an hour, after the night-workers whistle had sounded – and he would run into a somewhat displeased John Farnell.

That Night: Meeting Fire with Fire
James Alsop, by all accounts, was supposed to relieve Samuel Farnell, John’s son, at 6pm. Samuel had left the engine standing and when Alsop finally arrived he crossed paths with John by the Blacksmith’s shop – where he happened to be talking to his brother, Richard.

The two main characters in this play did give their accounts of what happened and it is their voices I use, however, the two accounts  differ over the intensity of the violence and the reason for the quarrel. There were a number of witnesses as to what happened, who are generally more supportive of John than James – and I do add their testimony if it adds to the clarity; these witnesses also differ to the number of blows and kicks they saw and the words they heard, but all agree that Farnell, the bigger of the men, struck out first. It would be that fact that saved Alsop from a charge of murder.

Farnell made a statement to Superintendent Holland of the police and to a local magistrate, in the form of Mr Gilpin:
‘I asked him why he did not come at the proper time, and said I would discharge him. Alsop was saucy [meaning he was disrespectful in his reply], and I struck him with my open hand. He then took a running kick at me, and I then struck him with my clenched fist on the head, and then told him to go home I would not have him there. He then came to me again, and when three or four yards away from me he deliberately fired a pistol at me, and something struck me on the left side’.

John Hubery testified that Alsop shouted ‘you’ve got it’ as he fired. It is also very probable that Farnell blooded Alsop’s nose.

Alsop would make the following statement to the police, against the advice of his attorney:
‘When I went up to go to work, John was standing with his back to me. I say ‘How’n you do John?’ He says ‘You b—–d, you have been blowing the joints again of that engine’. I said ‘It’s a lie’. Then he struck at me and hit me aside o’ the nose, and knocked me down to the ground. Then he kicked me three or four times when I was on the ground. As soon as I got up he struck at me and knocked me down again. He kicked me up again, and stood up at a distance, and told him I would make him pay for that. He was coming at me again, and I drawed the pistol and fired at him.’

This testimony was questioned at his trial, as two of the pit lads stated that Farnell was side-on to Alsop when he fired and not square, and so not in a position to ‘come at me again’.

Chaos ensued. Farnell called out to his brother ‘he’s shot me’ as witness, miner William Stokes, approached Alsop only to be threatened by him with ‘the same as the other one’. Farnell approached Stokes, in a stooping posture, saying ‘don’t leave me, I can’t live in this state’, so, bleeding profusely from the side, Stokes helped him to the office. He then sort Thomas Williams (the wharf manager) in order to ‘take’ Alsop.

At the same time,  Alsop, who offered no assistance, ran for about 20 yards before heading towards the canal. Here, spotted by Thomas Williams, he sat on a mineral railway line and reloaded his pistol. John Hubery ran for the police.

The terminus of the Wyrley Branch Canal at the Nook, adjacent was the old mineral railway – perhaps where James reloaded before heading off along the canal. 2017.

Moses Taylor, a doctor from Cannock, soon arrived and examined Farnell. He found a wound three inches in depth, above the region of the liver – in fact the lead of the projectile had splintered, clipping the liver and the spine. Farnell was informed the wound was mortal, he was then removed home in great pain.

The police, in the form of Constable Samuel Lindop, duly arrived and, acting on a tip-off, headed off in pursuit of Alsop. About a mile and a half away, while on Broad Lane in Essington Wood, he caught-up with Alsop, who was walking very quickly. What happened next showed bravery, luck and simply shows how violence, likely led by fear, can just escalate.

Lindop closed in to just four yards behind Alsop, who, good to his word to Stokes, drew his pistol and fired. Lindop had turned sideways in order to present less of a target and fortunately his gamble paid off – the projectile skimmed his uniform. Lindop immediately felled Alsop with a blow of his staff (truncheon, I assume) and he was, ‘freely bleeding’ from his wounds, carted off to Cannock Police Station.

On the Saturday, John Farnell died at home and in great pain. He gave a statement to the police in front of a magistrate and identified an emotionless Alsop, who had been taken to the house for such purposes. Alsop was committed to Stafford for trial on a charge of killing Farnell and attempting to kill Lindop.

John Farnell’s grave is now unmarked, as all are at Cannock after a headstone clearance. 2017.

Farnell was committed to the hollowed soil of Cannock St Lukes on Tuesday 20 September, with many of his colleagues present and the costs defrayed by the Company. Sadly, the gravestones at Cannock are now cleared; like a demobbed army, they lie recumbent by the church wall relieved of their burden of sentry over their watches. If John had a stone, it is now lost or too weathered to read.

Sir Anthony Cleasby, judge at Alsop’s trial. (Unknown).

On Wednesday 7 December, Alsop stood trial at the Staffordshire Winter Assizes, in Stafford. The case was presented before Sir Anthony Cleasby, a cautious yet conscientious man. The prosecution was led by a Mr Underhill, the defence by a Mr Smith. Both acknowledged that the question of whether Alsop pulled the trigger or not was beyond doubt, the issue was pre-meditation.

Underhill went for a charge of murder from the start, because he had the gun and fired it quite deliberately, aiming at Farnell – all of which of course is true. Smith countered with the fact that Alsop always carried the pistol (so he wasn’t carrying it especially that night to do John Farnell an injury) and that everyone agreed that Farnell, by far the bigger of the two, had assaulted Alsop first.

It is interesting to note that Alsop himself was not called to the stand, so we have no idea if he was remorseful in any way.

The Judge centred on the severity of the charge during his summing-up and the jury found for manslaughter  – a finding that he fully endorsed. Alsop was sentenced to 10-years hard labour, Cleasby stating that such a ‘severe punishment must be passed in order to deter persons from using deadly weapons when they quarrelled’.

What seems strange to me is that the attempt to shoot Lindop – which would have been attempted murder, surely – was not taken into account in this, the two cases were kept completely separate. With the passing of the first sentence, the second charge was withdrawn. Lindop was awarded £20 for his bravery.

Prison
It appears that Alsop was moved swiftly to London – well, to Millbank Prison to be precise. Millbank stood on the current site of the Tate Gallery (on the bank of the Thames, near Vauxhall Bridge) and opened in 1816. It was the prison for convicts sentenced to transportation to be Australia to be housed prior to their departure, however, by Alsop’s time, it was just a local prison. It closed in 1890 and was demolished over the next ten years.

The 24-year old Alsop in Millbank Gaol, 1871. (National Archives)

Millbank had an interesting design, which is shown by how the Handbook of London describes it in 1850: the plan of the prison comprised a circular chapel at the centre of the site, surrounded by a three-storey hexagon made up of the governor’s quarters, administrative offices and laundries, surrounded in turn by six pentagons of cell blocks. The buildings of each pentagon were set around a cluster of five small courtyards (with a watchtower at the centre) used as airing-yards, and in which prisoners undertook labour. The three outer angles of each pentagon were distinguished by tall circular towers, described in 1862 as Martello-like: these served in part as watchtowers, but their primary purpose was to contain staircases and toilets. The third and fourth pentagons (those to the north-west, furthest from the entrance) were used to house female prisoners, and the remaining four for male prisoners.

Millbank, where James Alsop was housed in 1871. (Unknown)

Along with his hard labour, Alsop would have been subject to solitary confinement for the first nine months or so of his sentence. This means he would have carried out his hard labour within his cell, or shielded from other inmates within the prison, and in silence.

The silent regime in prison, segregation (even in chapel) sent some insane. (Old Police Cells Museum, Brighton)

The punishments themselves were, by 1870, completely pointless.

One was walking for 10-hours a day on a treadmill (imagine a large hamster wheel). These treadmill had originally been designed as a way of providing power for the prison (to grind flour, for example), however, by Alsop’s time this purpose had gone and prisoners walked for the sake of it. Like the workhouse, prison was designed to be harsh to turn people away from entering these institutions in the first place.

The treadmill and oakum picking. (Old Police Cells Museum, Brighton)

Other pointless hard labour consisted of carrying cannonballs from one place to another, turning a crank 10,000 times in a single day (a crank that could have its turning resistance tightened or eased at the whim of the guards) or, one that at least did some good although it often left bleeding fingers, was the un-picking of old rope.

The pointless crank, which could be located easily within a cell. (Old Police Cells Museum, Brighton)

After this inaugural period, a convict would be open for hard labour on the chain-gang. This would see James over the next nine years, and which ever prison he may have been in, engaged on ‘community service’ – Victorian style. James could have been sent to work to do almost anything: stone-breaking, quarrying, road building, dock work, government building projects – the list goes on.

Prisons were miserable, deeply unhealthy environments – I have visited those at the old Lincoln Castle and Oxford Castle (where John Lilburne was held). Prison food was frugal, with meat scarce. It was designed to be soul-destroying and to break people, and it did: cases of suicide, attempted suicide and ‘insanity’ were not uncommon throughout the prison system (and I suspect, under recorded). This was the world in which Alsop would find himself.

How long he would serve is unknown, as is where he may have been if not at Millbank for his full term. I would love to ask him, defiant as he may have been after Farnell’s death, whether that one moment of haste, which could not have happened had he not carried a pistol, was worth ten pointless – more, agonising – years of life. We will never know; all that we do know is that he was out by 1880 and living in the locale again.

Aftermath
Alsop’s actions had deeper consequences of course. Farnell’s family, son Samuel and his step-mother Lucy, were living in Town Well Road (I assume, Cross Street), Cheslyn Hay in 1871. Samuel was the only bread-winner now, but the household was still able to employ domestic help. After this, the pair split-up. Lucy appears as a lodger with her natural son in Brewood in 1881, but disappears after this. Samuel also becomes elusive, appearing only with certainty in Kingswinford in 1891 as a colliery labourer, unmarried, lodging with a family. After this, I can’t trace him.

Whatever the fate of John Farnell’s son and second wife were, considerable blame must be attached to James Alsop. What cannot be laid at Alsop’s door is the seemingly early fate for most of John’s extended family.

John’s father, Samuel, was still alive when John was killed. He passed away in 1875. His eldest sister, Mary, never married. She acted as housekeeper to her father, until his death, then did so for her brother, Richard. She died in 1886. Charles, the next of his siblings, was already a widower and had lost a child by John’s death. His son, John, would also pre-decease him – passing away in 1885, aged 27. Charles was a farm labourer, lodging in Cheslyn Hay in 1891. I believe he passed away in 1894. Richard would lose his wife, aged just 31, around the time of John Farnell’s shooting. His only son, Richard Peter, would pass away in 1887, aged just 25. Richard himself would follow in 1889, the same year as sister, Sarah Altree.

James Alsop would return to the Cannock area after his release from prison, we have no idea how he was received by his family – even if they had ever made the journey to see him in London. The fact he returned to the area does suggest to me that he was accepted, but how the local community reacted, as they all would have known, is a different question.

My initial tracking down of James after his release required a little leap of faith. I believe he returned to the Bridgtown area, where he became a coal miner in one of the local pits – lodging with someone. He must have been out long enough to secure his job and lodgings, but also to get to know Avis Addison, the daughter of a Shropshire miner, for in mid-1880 the couple were married.

In 1881, the couple are living in North Street, Bridgtown. James is described as a miner and born in Bushbury (Essington was a part of Bushbury). The spelling of Alsop changes, but then again, it does with all his family over time. He is described as being 31-years old, a few years younger than he should be. Avis is 23-years old. Interestingly, Avis’ parents and siblings are living with them.

James’ mother was living with her son, Henry, in Essington in 1871. By 1881, she is lodging elsewhere, in Blackhalve, although Henry is still living in Essington, working as a brickyard labourer.

By 1891, things had changed for all. I believe the Sarah Alsop, James’ mother, had passed away in the late 1880s. Henry was working for a brewery, as a carter, along with his eldest son. They had moved from Essington to Wolverhampton, possibly vacating the house James moved into. I wonder if he was working for the newly formed Wolverhampton & Dudley Brewery (Banks’s).

James Alsop returning to Essington, 1891. (National Archives)

James has moved with Avis, back into the heart of his old community, back to Essington. Living in School Lane, he is now described as being born in Essington and, interestingly, has become a ‘stationary engine driver’. I can’t believe this is not our James. Avis’ sister and her husband are also lodging with them.

How the local community reacted is unknown, but whatever the reason, all had changed again by 1901. James and Avis were now living on Coven Road in Brewood. The couple had, for whatever reason, not had children. James was now an engine worker at a pumping station and, interestingly, a George Henge, a civil engineer from Loughborough, was visiting them on census day. James was also described as being 53-years old – more like his actual age.

Henry had moved to Sneyd Lane, he was now a carter for a farm, along with a number of his now mature sons.

The Alsop boys’ itinerant nature would be shown again at the next census, and ironically they would be the closest to each other than the last day they were in the same house back in 1865. James, now a stoker in a brick works, was living at 42a Lichfield Road, New Invention, Short Heath. Henry, now a widower, was living at 58 Lichfield Road, New Invention. Whatever the past may have held, I cannot believe the brothers were not reconciled. Henry is a farm labourer and living with his son, Samuel, and his family.

Henry would pass away in 1916. James died in 1922, while his wife, Avis, died in 1929. With her, the story of such a pointless death really ends.

If only he hadn’t taken his gun that day, a life would have been spared and a family held together; further, another life wouldn’t have been blighted by a prison term and its remainder falling forever under that shadow of a single moment of madness.

Leave the hardware at home.

My thanks to:
Staffordshire Record Office
Cheslyh Hay LHS
Findmypast
National Archives
Evans & Albutt
Old Police Cells Museum, Brighton.
and those Unknown sources

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