Author: Ian Waugh

Princetown Prison – 1845

Western Times - Saturday 30 August 1845

Western Times – Saturday 30 August 1845

The horrors and cruelty that prisoners of war endured at the original Princetown Prison on Dartmoor are recalled in this brief item in the Western Times – Saturday 30 August 1845.

“Dartmoor – It is reported that the Prince-town Prison – those fearful dungeons which proved the grave of so many of our gallant enemies during the war, are to be sold. The building is of vast extent, and accommodated at once ten thousand prisoners of war, and the soldiers who guarded them.

Its strength is incalculable, and language cannot describe the gloomy desolation of the spot, where the poor captives, far from their own sunny land of wine and olives, were immured to die amid the horrors of a Dartmoor winter.

The place is worth seeing before it is closed to the public”.

Later items of value were auctioned in Plymouth – Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Saturday 30 May 1846:Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 30 May 1846

James Rossiter of Rahere street, found drowned – 1892

British Newspapers from centuries ago were full of reports, much the same today, of people disappearing or dying in suspicious in unresolved circumstances. The police on the river Thames during Victorian Times were kept particularly busy.

21 year old James Rossiter, was living with his mother in the overcrowded and squalid conditions that were in Rahere Street in Clerkenwell. From what I can discover this street finally disappeared in the post-war clearances. In the 1800s however the area around it was notorious and kept the police busy at all times.

As for James Rossiter, although he had been involved in a minor disturbance and was due to appear in court, he seemed a quiet man with something troubling him. We will never really know what was going on and why his body was found in the Thames on that December morning in 1892.

An Embankment Mystery

Morning Post - Monday 26 December 1892

Morning Post – Monday 26 December 1892

On Saturday, at King’s College hospital, Mr. John Troutheek held an inquiry with reference to the death of James Rossiter, aged 21, a walking stick maker, of 9 Rahere Street, Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, whose body was found in the Thames near Temple stairs early on Wednesday morning last.

Mary Anne Rossiter, of Rahere street, said the deceased was her son. On Tuesday evening she saw him in a public house on the corner of Spencer street. He was with three friends. He last witness to get some fish for supper, and gave her the money to pay for it. Witness did so, and went to bed.

About one o’clock the deceased came in and called after her, “Mother, I must be very careful of myself, as someone is following me about.” He then said “Goodnight” and she heard him go out. By the Coroner: He was summoned a short time ago for assault, and had nothing else to worry him. He would have no occasion to go near Waterloo Pier.

Police Constable Alfred Freshwater, 37 Thames Police, enclosed that only on the morning of the 21st Inst. he was on duty at Waterloo Pier Police-station, when he heard a loud cry for help coming from the direction of the Temple Pier. He rode to the spot with another constable, but could only find a man’s hat. There was no one on the Embankment.

Inspector Plumb, Thames Police, stated that he had found the body the same morning in the Thames near the pier stairs and the Temple. In the pockets he found three pawn tickets, some letters, and a summons returnable at Clerkenwell police-court on December 7.

Dr. George Hamilton, of three, Southampton street, Strand, said he’s am on the body and found no marks of violence.

A post mortem examination revealed that death was due to suffocation by drowning. The jury returned an open verdict of found drowned.

A Device for Recording Sound – 1888

One of the many thrills of living the life of a Victorian must have been the development of the ability to record sound and therefore to mechanically (later electronically) reproduce the human voice. Several ideas and inventions were put forward including this one from Charles Sumner Tainter in 1888 reported in The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough:

Old British News

Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough – Thursday 30 August 1888

Another instrument for recording sound has been brought over from America, known as the Tainter Graphophone, the inventor of Mr. Charles Sumner Tainter. In the essentials of construction this latest sound a writer is practically the phonograph under a new name.

Speech or song of communicated to it and threw a mouthpiece which is attached to the diaphragm. The latter vibrates in exact and really wonderful accord with the voice –much as the tympanum of the ear must do –and a minute steel point cuts on the waxen surface of a cylinder a curved hair line which also accurately corresponds to the diaphragm.

So fine are the lines traced the at 160 of them, with equal spaces between, would lie within an inch; and yet with such nicety are they traced that when the motion is reversed and the stylus again goes over the curve, the diaphragm is once more set in vibration precisely as before, and he gives back to the ear the same sounds as was sung or spoken into.

Mr. Tainter claims to have been the first to employ wax instead of tinfoil or some other metallic surface –and this is the most important element in the recent marked improvement in the art of sound recording.

You can read more about Charles Sumner Tainter here.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

The real ‘Peaky Blinders’

Gang trouble, particularly in Birmingham, started to appear in the newspapers in the early 1870s with reports of “slogging gangs” causing huge disturbances with considerable violence. The media were describing them as large bodies of “roughs”. In 1872 about 400 of them made their appearance “to great consternation of the inhabitants”. The reports in the Victorian press were of great disturbances and considerable violence particularly against shopkeepers in the area. This terrorising became more organised with the development of what became known as the “peaky blinders” and other gangs. These Birmingham based gangs remained in the media until up to about the First World War. After about 1919 coverage in the media begin to fade and by the mid twenties very little is reported of them.

By 1900 the “peaky blinders” were part of the Birmingham reporting scene. He is a typical news report from The Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Friday 26 October 1900:

“Peaky Blinder” Terrors

Exemplary Sentences

Old British News

Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Friday 26 October 1900

At Birmingham Quarter Sessions, yesterday, arising out of a disturbance which occurred in Barford Street on June 26, there were two youths of the peaky blinder class in the dock on charges of stabbing police officers.

Henry Attwood (18), polisher, was alleged to have wounded police Constable James Macauley, and Percy Langridge (16), labourer pleaded guilty to a charge of wounding police constable Barker. Attwood pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Mr. Dominik Daly.

In opening in the case for the prosecution against Attwood, Mr Stubbins stated that it was felt advisable by the magistrates to send these prisoners for trial because, for a considerable time before this affray, there had been complaints of disorderly behaviour in this neighbourhood. In fact, so serious did the disturbances become that the Chief Of Police was compelled to send his officers there in couples on account of the danger which they ran from the behaviour of these youths who went by the name of “peaky blinders”.

On this occasion Macauley was sent into Barford Street with two other officers, Hunt and Barker, to keep order. They found it necessary to take two men into custody in consequence of their bad language, and this seemed to have aroused the feelings of other members of the crowd, who made a demonstration against the police. Suddenly Attwood rushed at Hunt and struck at him, cutting through his hat with some sharp instrument. He at once ran on towards Macauley, who turned his head on a warning shout from Hunt in time to see Attwood rush up behind him. The officer felt a blow in the back with a knife, and shouting out, “I’m stabbed.” he handed over his prisoner to another policeman who gave chase to Attwood, but was unable to catch him. As he was bleeding from the back, he returned to the station, and had his wound rest at the hospital.

About the same time Barker was stabbed by Langridge, and the officers were stoned by other “Peakies.” An hour or so afterwards Macauley identified Attwood, who had been arrested in the meantime, as the man who had stabbed him.

The only extraordinary feature of the case was that Langridge, who pleaded guilty to wounding Police-constable Barker, declared from the first that it was he who had stabbed Macauley, and in this he was supported by Attwood and other of his friends. The police witnesses, however, declared emphatically that this was not so, and he pled they would have not have been mistaken in Attwood.

The jury found Attwood guilty, and in passing sentence upon him and Langridge, the Recorder remarked that such grave assaults on the police must be repressed with a strong hand. Each of the prisoners would be sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

By the 1920s infamy and indeed the coverage of these “peaky blinders” had all but disappeared and The Gloucester Citizen – Thursday 09 May 1929, were reporting their almost disappearance.

Police Chief And Race Gangs

Old British News

Gloucester Citizen – Thursday 09 May 1929

The Chief Constable of Birmingham (Sir Charles Rafter) at a meeting of the Watch Committee there, stated that the racing gang called the Birmingham gang did not belong to Birmingham. Its members lived elsewhere.

A comparative statement of crime in the city from 1899 to the present time showed a very remarkable diminution. He added that since the early a year the “peaky blinder” had almost disappeared, as also had the gangs.

A drama series depicting the “Peaky Blinders” is receiving considerable success on BBC Two (UK) telling the post First World War story of Thomas Shelby and his fictitious gang. More here.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Eclipse captured with moving pictures – 1898

Hartlepool Mail – Saturday 11 December 1897

The late 1800’s and Edwardian era were a time of great technological adventure and ‘world firsts’. Here The Hartlepool Mail are reporting that the forthcoming eclipse will be filmed using a process of moving pictures.

Eclipse and Cinematograph

For the first time in the history of eclipse observation a cinematograph will be used (for?) the total solar eclipse of January 21st 1898.

The Rev. J.M. Bacon, who has charge of the bulk of the members of the British Astronomical Association Eclipse Party, will take out a very powerful cinematograph (furnished and adapted by Mr Nevil Maskelyne), which will enable five or six photographs per second to be taken.

If this instrument will only give successful results the most complete series of photographs ever procured in an eclipse will be obtained, and these moving pictures should throw great light on the phenomena afforded by the sun’s eclipse.


The Reverend Bacon and Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S (inventor and magician) collaborated with several electronic experiments during this era. Maskelyne (1863–1924) “was a competitor and public detractor of Guglielmo Marconi in the early days of radio (wireless). On one occasion he hacked into Marconi’s demonstration of wireless telegraphy, and broadcast his own message, hoping to make Marconi’s claims of “secure and private communication” appear foolish.” His father, John Nevil Maskelyne  (22 December 1839 – 18 May 1917), was the inventor of the pay toilet, along with many other Victorian-era devices.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Betrayed By A Lifelong Friend – 1905

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 27 May 1905

In a divorce report in 1905 Edwardian readers discover that Christopher Gibson was seriously let down by his trusted friend. Victorian and Edwardian Newspapers were full of contemporary scandal and stories of this nature. They are a great resource for historians looking for names of relatives mentioned in the news.

Here is such a story reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser in May that year:

Betrayed By A Lifelong Friend.
Wife Who “Acted On Impulse.”

On Tuesday, in the Divorce Court, the sad sequel to a friend’s visit to a family was told, and Mr. Christopher Gibson, a chemist’s assistant at Exeter, was granted a degree nisi because his wife had eloped with his old schoolfriend and lifelong companion, Geoffrey Owen Godfrey Laurence.

Laurence had accepted an invitation from Gibson to pay him a visit, and remained seven weeks. Mrs. Gibson one day left to visit her parents at Reading, and one week later Laurence left, taking some of Gibson’s clothes.

The pair are went to America, and Laurence subsequently wrote to his old schoolfriend, stating: “It worries me to think how deeply I have wronged you. Is there anything on this earth I can do to make a reconciliation between us? You and I have always been the best of friends –in fact, more like brothers –and I tell you it worries my heart out to think of the awful crime I am guilty of.”

He added that he thought Gibson was partly to blame for his wife’s rash act.

Mrs. Gibson wrote seeking forgiveness, and stating if she had not “acted on impulse” it would not have happened.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

The Plight of Victorian Youngsters

Morning Post – Tuesday 07 October 1845

The Morning Post on Tuesday, the 7th of October 1845 was reporting a significant number of accidents involving children. It highlighted only too well the plight of youngsters during this era and how their lives were quite frequently endangered by the lack of care, attention or action from adults around them. Articles like this, apart it’s historic social value, also provide historians and researchers with crucial detail such as names and related places.

Numerous Accidents

During Saturday and Sunday the following numerous and serious accidents occurred, and the persons injured were admitted to St. Thomas’s and Guy’s Hospitals: – the first case was that of Harriet White, aged five years, his parents resided in Three Tun Court, Borough. She had accompanied them to Malling, in Kent, for the purpose of “hopping”, and whilst they were busily employed had their work she approached to nearer fire which had been kindled in the open air to prepare their food, when the windblown all the flames towards her, and her clothes became the ignited, and she was burnt all over her body in a frightful manner.

The second case was that of Jane Murphy, five years of age, residing at number 12, Holland street, Blackfriars road, who having been left in the care of two children younger than herself whilst her father and mother were out drinking, opened the second floor window and endeavoured to get hold of a piece of line which hung outside, and in so doing fell headlong to the pavement below, from a height of thirty feet, causing a severe concussion of the brain and several internal injuries.

The third was that of Eliza brown, aged nineteen, who, whilst quarrelling with some of her companions in the street, was pushed off the kerb, and by her fall dislocated her shoulder bone.

The above were conveyed to St. Thomas’s Hospital. At Guy’s the following were also received:- with Ian Jones age of seventeen years, in the employ of Mr. Dalton, Potter, High Street, Lambeth, who, whilst superintending the delivery of some goods in his master’s warehouse, inadvertently stepped backwards and fell through a trap door in the floor which have been left open, and fractured his shoulder.

The last case was that of John Johnson, of Cornwall road, Lambeth, who was attending to some pigeons on the top of a high house, when his foot slipped and he was precipitated from the roof to the street, whereby he sustained a concussion of the brain and other injuries.

Ian Waugh
Old British News

Road to War – 4 August 1914

World War One news research service: tracing relatives and communities – no charge or fees for this special voluntary service.

Hull Daily Mail – Wednesday 05 August 1914

Full page Old British News images here. Updated on a regular basis.

Here are the main points of daytime, 4th August 1914:

  • Serbs ban the sending of press dispatches
  • German ambassador in Brussel delivers German response to Belgian reply at 6 AM
  • 8:02 AM Germans invade Belgium
  • 9 AM King Alfred meets with Belgian parliament
  • German troops cross French border near Mars-La-Tour and Moineville
  • Joffre leaves for the frontier
  • Riots in Paris
  • King Alfred appeals to Britain and France for military support regarding Belgian neutrality
  • British Cabinet meets at 11 AM after hearing of Belgian invasion and issues ultimatum to expire at midnight
  • Whitehall filled with crowds in support of British intervention in war
  • British ultimatum transmitted to Berlin and British Ambassador prepares to leave Berlin
  • German Government appeals to Italians to honour treaty go unheeded
  • Reichstag opens; speech by Kaiser (morning), stops for church services, reconvenes for German Chancellor speech (3 PM); Reichstag support of war and votes for war credits then adjourns (Socialists agree to set differences aside and vote in support).
  • (circa 2 PM and concurrent with Bethmann-Hollweg in Reichstag) Asquith announces to House of Commons that he has a message from King Mobilisation proclamation and reads terms of British ultimatum to Germany.
  • 1900hrs British ultimatum (two parts) becomes known in Berlin; British Ambassador presents it to Bethmann-Hollweg
  • About 2100hrs British intercept German message from Berlin that Germany considers itself at war with Britain the moment the British
  • Ambassador asked for his passport (during delivery of British ultimatum)
  • Canadian Cabinet meeting and mobilisation of Canadian Expeditionary Force begins; reservists sail
  • Message of appreciation sent to Canada by King George
  • Rival warship off Port of New York; Foreign consulates in U.S. busy with returning nationals

Road to War – 29 July 1914

Manchester Evening News – Wednesday 29 July 1914

As the days have passed the mood in the British Press is towards an inevitable war in Europe. The options for Britain and its Empire are becoming fewer. On the 29th of July, 1914 newspapers were pointing towards the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. His general slowness and an overall reluctance in this fast developing crisis has been marked in history. But in 1914 the British media are at least polite towards this politician.

The events on this day were moving furiously and without the immediate rolling news formats that we’re used to today it was impossible for British Newspapers to keep pace. Many were announcing that special editions were being printed later in the day. Without any broadcasting whatsoever this was the best and fastest way to get events across.

Before we look at the editorial of The Manchester Evening News on this day, here are the main points of events on the 29th of July 1914:

  • Churchill persuades Asquith to authorise “Warning Telegram” to fleet
  • Nicholas II telegrams Kaiser, start of “Willy-Nicky” telegrams in English over next three days
  • Vienna refuses to negotiate with Serbia, Belgrade shelled by Austrian artillery
  • Franz Josef sends letter to Tsar Nicholas
  • Austrian forces repulsed at Losnitza
  • Montenegrins occupy Cattaro
  • Serbs blow up bridges at Semlin
  • Belgian army reserves called up
  • Trade in Antwerp “paralysed”
  • Tschirischky transmits Kaiser’s ‘Halt-in-Belgrade” proposal
  • Poincaré and Vivianni return to Paris and hold Cabinet council meeting
  • Business in Paris almost at standstill
  • Kaiser holds military councils and issues German warnings to Russia
  • Moltke sends a memorandum to Chancellor and demands general mobilization of German Armed forces; Moltke also send telegram to Conrad suggesting Austria begin full mobilization and Germany would follow
  • Bethmann-Hollweg makes moves to keep Britain neutral; final draft of ultimatum to Belgian Government sent to German ambassador in Brussels
  • Grey informs Lichnowsky (German Ambassador) that Britain could not remain neutral in the event of a continental war; proposes mediation
  • Grey and Cabinet begin meeting daily, sometimes twice or more a day over next several days; following this meeting “Warning Telegram” sent to all British naval, military and colonial stations warning that war was possible
  • (and 30th) R.N. leaves Portsmouth
  • British and German fleets in Far East begin mobilizing
  • King of Montenegro’s yacht evades capture by Austrian destroyers
  • Russian general mobilization ordered, but revoked by Tsar later that same evening; Russian hopes for Serb victory; Russians black-out Baltic coastline
  • Kaiser holds Crown Council at Potsdam over possibility of British involvement over France

The Manchester Evening News, 29th of July, 1914:


Failure has attended Sir Edward Grey’s well meant efforts to preserve peace. His plan of calling together a conference, attended by representatives of Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy, with a view to arranging prevailing differences has not met with the approval of the Powers. It is promptly fallen through, and along with it, of course, the suggestion that until the Conference reported hostilities between Austria and Servia should be suspended.

German influence largely accounted for the failure. The authorities at Berlin took the view that conversations between the Powers would be more useful than a conference, and for anything the public know, there plan may be the better of that two. Conversations or conference, whichever the diplomats think best, but let the efforts to restore peace and confined hostilities to the narrowest possible area by continuous and vigilant.

At the moment all I ease our turned towards Saint Petersburg, owing to the strong stand taken by the advisers of the Czar on the publication of the first intimation that Austria was menacing Servia. The warlike words attributed to the Russian statesmen have not been withdrawn, nor have they been qualified. They have been followed, we regret to say, by alarming reports about mobilisation of troops on the Russian frontier on a large scale. The feeling in Saint Petersburg, so far as we know, has been uninfluenced by the reports had Austria has no intention of annexing any part of the Serbian Territory. Probably the Russians know as well as a any nation the considerations which had dominant before war is entered upon her way of becoming of no importance as war proceeds.

When Great Britain began the Boer war she announced that she had no intention of securing the gold fields of the Transvaal, but today the gold fields are under the control of the British government. What we know is that the message has been dispatched from Saint Petersburg stating that if Austria occupies Belgrade the actor will be regarded by Russia has a cause of war. It is not an official message and may be, and we hope is unauthorised. But if represents the view of the Russian government, how history repeats itself!

In the seventies of the last century, it will be remembered, England was thrilled by the intimation that if Russia occupied Constantinople the actual be regarded by Great Britain as an actor war. Meanwhile the war that is already in operation has, as usual, been a financial advantage to are few and are serious loss to many. Already some industries are badly hit. The only hopeful sign of the times is that the European Powers, with the possible exception of Russia, show a keen desire to keep out of the turmoil if they can.

In France the idea rough going to war on account of Austria is quarrel with Servia is said to be extremely distasteful. We can quite believe it, and if it be true the news should be spread to Saint Petersburg, where it may have the effect, to some extent, of curbing enthusiasm of the war-mongers. No nation ever had much cause to look with complacency on the results of any war except one waged for the defence of the hearths and homes, and the record of Russia during the last quarter of a century provides no exception in this respect.

Very often the people who clamour for war of the first to lament that a shot was fired.