Saturday, 2 December 2017


(My pictures have all been electronically stolen by Google!)

I wrote this small article on my blog some time ago now, but I have brought it up to date for the benefit of my local readers specifically, who might well know of where I am talking. Written a little tongue-in-cheek perhaps, I hope that it fits into the local discussion and is relevant.

Do you happen to know how many named streets there are in Melton Mowbray? Well officially, at today's date, [2013] there are 699 and I must confess that it is a much larger number than I would have ever dreamt of.  But, hold the front page, I have just discovered that there are now 700 and that that civic milestone was passed recently with the unheralded appearance of a brand new, shiny plate which proudly displays the name, 'Mucky Lane' near to the entrance of our swish new Council Offices at Burton End; Oh how twee - but not quite correct it seems. Locals 'argue' that a lane or pathway has always existed in the area, once running alongside the then Framland House and linking Burton Street with the Play Close; but it was never officially named or at least, known by any particular name.  As an incomer to the town, I would guess that there were at least a dozen pathway given this soubriquet at any one time.

A discourse has recently arisen on my local town's Facebook pages, as to 'where was what and when was it there' and certain facts have born truth along with the usual assertion of locally handed down myths.  Since man discovered the wheel, he has ever used roads to traverse the land on his feet in order get him from place to place.  What originated as mere footpaths enabling progress via the shortest routes between caves, have become today the motorways and multi-lane autoroutes and highways which we know so well and as wheeled transport grew larger and less simple, its numbers increased along with the general population. The footpaths were retained for local use, many of which remain protected and maintained under the law of the land to the present time. The more direct routes which linked the more important inhabited population centres and places of business however, required to be widened and most importantly, to be maintained, as the steel rims of large wooden wheels did much damage to the often fragile surfaces, this especially during the winter months.  With the question of expense now raising its regular head, the turnpike system was brought into being with toll-gates manned by private companies to take fees from the users with which to earn cash for their high-priced upkeep.

The turnpikes - or main roads - were simple to name; as you drove to Grantham, it was the Grantham Road and when you got halfway it became the Melton Road, for those travelling in that direction.  In the same manner, as the population expanded and the infrastructure grew with it, the smaller linking roads and town streets which serviced the towns and cities were given the most obvious names by the people whose houses were built among them, and all of this with no diktat from local parish councils or the like. Names commonly related to the trades of the people living in them, names such as 'Butchers Lane' or "Bread Street" were obvious.  When the time came that the developers began to build not just a house, but acres of houses, the naming of the streets became more important and obviously a challenge as several new roads would appear at one go.  Something I am reluctant to put out in the public arena rather surprised me recently when I came across this piece from Wikipedia:

I give the link only and cannot accept responsibility for any complaints of moral decadence which might ensue, but watch who is looking over your shoulder!  Now join me, out and about one early Sunday morning.

An unguided tour

Walking around our ancient old town as I am wont to do occasionally, I never fail to be perplexed and oftentimes amused by the plethora of seemingly crass and quite simply, baffling, street names which have been and are still being, allocated to the new highways and by-ways which continue to proliferate upon the former meadows and lanes which once skirted our boundaries.  In the northeast of the town where the old Victorian Framland Isolation Hospital once stood at the top of Scalford Road, we now have the metamorphosed Framland Residential Home, which today 'offers a skilled elderly care service' within its 31 rooms at 'Clark' Drive. Accompanying Darren Clark the still-living golfer, are Torrance Drive; Faldo Drive; Lyle Close and the absolute mother of them all, Laura Davies Close!  What on earth have a bunch of rich, has-been golfers got in common with the market town of Melton Mowbray? When the kids grow up and ask who Laura Davies was, I wonder how many of us will recall that she was in fact, no local hero but a one-time woman golfer and certainly not that she was a local person who had once served the Town so well in some loyal way.  

From the fairways of Framland, travel west and across the Scalford Road to alight in what is colloquially known as 'The Poets Estate', where, en route to Nottingham Road we meander betwixt the choice literary plums of; Dickens; D'arcy; Keats; Shelley; Tennyson and Galsworthy et al. Once again we exclaim, "What the heck has 'Rabbie' Burns got to do with us here," perhaps he once leased  a hunting-box nearby - who the heck knows?  Just beyond the back gardens of the Burns' literary country lie three small tributaries named Russet, Bramley and Laxton; though I don't believe that there were ever any apple orchards there, but again, I might be wrong..

Am I being unfair - is it that I am being mischievous? Well I have purposely ignored other blatant examples from the north side of the town in order to turn my attention to the sixties development of the Leicester Road Estate, once a prime greenfield area but now generally accepted as residential without a combative thought. But who dreamt up the idea that the interlinking roads should be named after many of the rivers of England; what brilliant flash of inspiration from some unknown benefactor who seemingly possessed the powers and the rights to decide these matters made this decision? I won't name the rivers as there are indeed too many, but one river in particular, Redbrook (Crescent), I have so far failed to trace. If one travels into the deep south of Melton Mowbray, over even more of the former agricultural land, we have the ornithological connection with the Robins, Wrens and Woodcocks etc. which I will perhaps concede are quite relevant to most rural areas. Adjacent to our feathered friends and sited on the most recently developed large estate developed in the town, we can recall the moments of our countryside rambles in the vast collection of names relating to wild flora. But I cannot leave this side of town without a mention of the newly named streets which now replace the site of the old Police Station which once stood on the Leicester Road for almost fifty years. Who on earth dreamed up the idea, formulated the required permissions and actually set up street name boards which are named after three of England's most iconic aircraft, the 'V' bombers Valiant, Victor and Vulcan of the cold war years, together with two more used ones from an even earlier era, the Lancaster and the Halifax.  Im not sure that any of these saw actual service at the local airfield, so what is their relevance to us here today.


I needed to uncover what exactly was the legal or formal criteria for the naming of new thoroughfares and to discover what, if any, procedures or measures or degree of interest is applied by our civic protectors of local heritage: The rules of Melton Borough Council state: 

'Street Naming and Numbering is a statutory function. The relevant powers for local authorities are contained in Sections 64 and 65 of the Towns Improvement Clauses Act 1847, and Sections 17, 18 and 19 of the Public Health Act of 1925. This legislation requires the Local Authority to prepare street naming and numbering schemes and to maintain a good standard of street name plates.
It is important that developers apply to the Building Control Department at an early stage for a street numbering and naming scheme.  We will normally ask the developer for suggestions for street names based upon the history and/or locality of the area, providing they are not similar to any street name that already exists in the area these may be put forward for approval to the afore mentioned committee.
Following agreement with the developer to the proposed street naming and numbering, we will notify the relevant authorities and statutory undertakers of the approved scheme and Royal Mail will be asked to allocate postcodes. Royal Mail will not issue a postcode until informed by the local authority that an address has been allocated, an address is not complete without the correct postcode.
When the street name has been agreed a layout plan and a street numbering and naming schedule is prepared which allocates a number and street name to each of the developer’s plot numbers. Purchasers of new properties should be careful when passing on their new address details that they are using the postal number and street name, not the plot number and development name, as the two will not necessarily be the same.
Any request for a new or revised property number or street name must be requested in writing to the Building Control Department. A site plan must be submitted with the request on paper no larger than A3, the plan must indicate the property/properties the request relates too.

New street names should not duplicate a name already in use in the borough or neighbo[u]ring boroughs. Variations to the terminal word (street, road, avenue etc.) will not be accepted as a different name.
New street names should be of local significance and unsuitable names should be avoided.

Street names should not be difficult to pronounce or awkward to spell. In general, words of more than three syllables should be avoided and this includes the use of two words except in special cases.

So basically, what Melton Borough Council does is to ask for the submission of a pro-forma from the developer with his recommendations for names and points out that they have the authority to reject or override any of their suggestions. 


Now on the other hand, what of our immediate neighbours to the east, the Charnwood Borough Council? Working from the same legislation, they interpret the rules to provide a totally different and I believe, much more sensible policy practice which goes like this:


(i) This procedure relates to the naming of streets, footpaths, cycleways and parks
(ii) The following be included as consultees during the naming process: Parish and town councils, Parish Meetings, Loughborough and District Civic Trust, Urban Forum,  History and Archaeology Group, local history and natural history groups, the developer and other persons who from time to time may be identified as being appropriate

(iii) After the granting of planning permission, in the case of all sites, the above bodies, as appropriate, be consulted and requested to suggest a name or, as the case may be, a list of names or themes, that accord  with the principles outlined below, for consideration. 
(iv) The principles for the assignment of new names are that they should:
   • not relate to living people
   • not be the same as or similar to other street names in the area 
   • avoid potential mis-spellings
   • relate, wherever possible, to one or more of the following:
    (a) local history/historical associations/historical figures;
    (b) existing local themes in street names;
    (c) local natural history associations;
    (d) local industrial/sporting or twinning themes;
   • avoid the potential to cause offence. 

Is it different? well, just a little! a little  more than chalk and cheese! So what of the cavalier and apparently unthinking attitude of our friendly, seemingly detached or disinterested ruling body in their state of the art new offices at Melton? I'll bet that there were great jollies and local consultation on the christening of 'Mucky Lane', with probably a couple of bottles of champagne on the taxpayer to share with the local press as they announced their coup de gras, notwithstanding the embarrassing fact that they had been informed wrongly of its true position.  What could have been worse when they moved it around the corner to another place where it now remains and is still incorrect.  Muddy Lane was ever known to locals and appears on various maps as the alleyway which leads to the Play Close from Leicester Street and is now known as Park Lane.

So come on Building Control or whoever makes these seismic decisions, get your act together and see if we can't match up with the apparently sensible - and locally sensitive - folk from Charnwood and for the sake of us residents and visitors alike, let us bring an end, once and for all to these dilatory or uncaring practices. I know for sure that there are many living souls around the town who would prefer to remember those characters of a now lengthening list of soon-to-be-forgotten, 'non-living' persons who have at least lived in and more importantly, have contributed something tangible to the Town.

Finally, is someone is going to tell me that the now departed Civic Society or local Historic Society did in fact, approve of these unsuitable street names, or were indeed, consulted on the subject? If that is the case then it is time for my rant to end and for me to return to my dark room. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


A Lack of Accommodation

Reported from its fortnightly meeting of the Local Board at Melton Mowbray in 1865, during which a vexed member brought to its attention a question which he deemed as being of the utmost importance.  The Grantham Journal, with tongue in cheek, reported briefly on the matter with this account.

 'Mr LARGE said he wished to direct the attention of the Board to a question which before long must come to the front, and that was the provision of urinals in the town.  He thought that it was an important matter, and ought to be ventilated.  He was in Leicester the other day, and noticed the arrangement for one of these conveniences in Belgrave Gate, and what was in some towns very unsightly was there made a very nice affair.  He thought the adoption of the same idea, namely, a number of trees, would remove any objection that might otherwise arise in the fixing of such places at Melton.  Every market day there was often several complaints through the lack of such accommodation. The CHAIRMAN contrasted the size of Melton with a large town and remarked that the question was worth considering and that the Board must look carefully into it.  Mr GLOVER thought that it would cost a considerable sum of money to carry it out. The matter was then dropped.

Hence, as we say today when we finally understood something, "..the penny dropped."

Friday, 15 September 2017


A Pillar of the Local Society

It continues to leave me somewhat incredulous whenever I look up the value of money historically, to compare it with the spending power of today.  I am informed that £100 in Edwardian England would be equivalent to over £8,000 today. I mention this mundane fact in relation to a story I came across recently which has connections with my home town and also touches upon that of my former life as a police officer; it also relates to the subject of currency and matters of the mind. We are told that 'the love of money is the root of all evil', but aren't we all aware that such love is perhaps only natural when compared with the unease of penury, the insufficiency of money in our daily lives.

Ready money was indeed the motivating element of the facts relating to this sad account of a police officer in 1905 who, whilst serving with the Manchester City Police Force gave in to temptation and appropriated cash belonging to the public coffers, for his personal use, following which he absconded forthwith from his home and place of work. In bizarre and puzzling, not to mention tragic, circumstances he was never to return to his home town but died by his own hand in an hotel room in the market town of Melton Mowbray, some 120 miles distant in Leicestershire.  Sergeant John Petler was widely regarded as a pillar of the local society and a highly rated police officer in his home city, where few people seemed to have been aware of his motives in committing what could only be described as a one-off and stupid crime.  His lonely death and the manner of its happening created much sadness among those who knew him well and his strange actions left most people guessing as to why. From the brief information I have turned up thus far, I too am no wiser as to the motivation urging his fruitless aberration than his peers were over a century since.

                        JOHN HATON PETLER 1859-1905

John Petler was born close to Christmas Day in 1859 in the pretty Yorkshire town of Beverley when his father Thomas was 24 and his mother, Ann was 22. Starting with John's birth  shortly after their marriage, the couple were to produce a further ten siblings in the succeeding 20 years - 7 boys and 4 girls. Thomas Petler had started his working life as a farm labourer in Yorkshire with no apparent pretensions of wealth or station but by the time he married local girl Ann Hodgson in 1859, he was employable as a groom and would later become a stud groom to some important people in his area.   

With only a passing interest in horses, son John had worked with his father in his earlier years but being restless or whatever at the time he became of age he was to join the Coldstream Guards for a spell where he apparently served with distinction. In 1885 after this service in the Guards he was to join the Manchester Police Force and upon his induction he was posted to Chorlton section where he evidently made good progress, with it becoming quite clear that he had made a good choice for his future life.  Being soon recognised by the authorities for his worth as a police officer and also regarded by his superiors as being both intelligent and trustworthy - sought after qualities in those rough times in a large city - he was soon to be promoted to Sergeant and later inherited the post of Sergeant-clerk in the Courts department.  It was also about this time that his life outside daily duties to King and Country was to be enhanced, when in December 1889, at the age of 30, Sgt. Petler married Alice Maud Killick - a young lady from Kent - at Barton-upon-Irwell in Lancashire.

Life appeared to be promising much for his future, though no children were to be born to the couple which was said to be a great disappointment to them both. Notwithstanding this deficiency in their lives, it was not too long before Alice was to become frequently ill and with an early diagnosis of Rheumatism, her life was to become a matter of increasing discomfort and constant, debilitating pain which was to progress into almost total disability, leaving John with the problem of coping.  It appears that the situation impinged detrimentally on other lives - including the Police Service - to the point where it was reported that the Chief Constable and Chairman of the Manchester Watch Committee, uncomfortable with their officer's situation, had put in train the removal of Alice to a hospital.

Little is known of John's relationship with his own large family which had continued to grow on a regular basis right up to 1879 when Ernest Septimus Petler was born as the final child in the year that John reached his twentieth Birthday.  It is known that he was particularly fond of his younger brother Alfred who was born some 4 years after him and who now lived with his wife Hannah and their three children in the small county of Rutland in the English Midlands.

Whatever was happening in John Petler's now mature life in 1905 to steer his mind to the idea of committing a serious crime both against his employer and of the people of his home city, is not apparent to me and perhaps it is something we will probably never know, but it is very clear that something serious was affecting his train of thought.  Maybe anxiety at the sad situation of his ailing wife or perhaps personal problems at work, it is sufficient to say that on Thursday, November 30th 1905, unannounced and without the prior knowledge of his wife, he failed to turn up at the Magistrate's Court for work.  It is confirmed that he left his home in Moss Side around 7am that morning and his wife was to tell the Coroners jury that,  as was his practice, he had helped her out of her bed, her being confined to her bedroom for the last 15 months.  Later, she would tell how, after kissing her John had said, "Good bye love." instead of the usual, "Good morning."  She also recalled that the significance of that moment only dawned on her later, when he failed to return home from work that evening. Another poignant moment she remembered was that just two days earlier it had been her birthday and that her husband had been uncommonly demonstrative in his wishes that her next year 'would be full of happiness.'

A one-way ticket

Early that Thursday morning Sergeant/Clerk John Petler left his home for work as normal, but although it was a workday for him at his local police station he headed instead for the Railway station in the centre of Manchester where he boarded a train bound for the tiny County of Rutland - officially, the smallest in the Country - which adjoins Leicestershire in the south-east some 140 miles distant. The purpose of his journey was, without previous announcement, to visit the residence of his favourite younger brother Alfred who was then employed as a stud groom at Ketton Hall where he was living with his wife Hannah and their three young children in the small village of Ketton, close to the county seat of Oakham Town.

Having changed trains at Leicester Railway Station, John continued on to Melton Mowbray and eventually to Ketton where he met up with his brother Alfred to be welcomed him with open arms.  Arthur was plainly puzzled by this unexpected moment and apart from the fact that there had been no pre-warning of his imminent arrival and noticing that his brother seemed a little ill at ease, pacing about agitatedly and constantly looking about him, he was to become immediately concerned for his welfare.  He suggested that John should perhaps at least stay over for the night after his long journey, but his offer was rejected with the excuse that he needed to return to Manchester for his police duty. Alfred's three children were presently all at school locally, but they were sent for in order that they could meet their uncle before he departed on the next train. 

On his insistence to complete his return journey to Lancashire that same evening, Alfred reluctantly took his brother to the local railway station where he saw him safely into the train for Leicester, noting at the time that he was in possession of a return ticket for that town. As a parting gift John gave to each of the children - Gladys, Alfred and Nina - a gold sovereign, which would have been a very big gift, especially for a small child, suffice to say that in today's money, one 1905 King Edward sovereign would be worth more than £300. When aboard the train which was slowly moving out of the station, John reached out of the lowered window and handed an envelope to his brother, saying, "Here Alfred, take these. good bye for ever." Taking possession of the envelope and being still puzzled as to his intended purpose and reasoning, Alfred duly took charge of intending to examine the contents when he arrived home with the children and it was there that he was shocked at what he discovered; tucked inside the large manilla envelope was a small bundle of bank-of England treasury notes to the value of £65 - worth in the range of as much as £7,000 today.

Feeling desperately uncomfortable and with a bewildering concoction of odd thoughts racing around in his head, his suspicions were clearly aroused and his unhesitating decision was to contact the police: He was eventually to relate his concerns and return the money to the police. In the meantime, Sgt. Petler, ostensibly by now on his way back to Manchester, was to add to his strange behaviour of that day when, on the arrival of his train at Melton Mowbray he made the decision to embark in the town and booked himself into the George Hotel in the High street: This was the night of Sunday, 1st of December and it would be almost two weeks before anything more was heard or seen of him.


A Lamentable Affair

Meanwhile, back in the northern metropolis of Manchester, much guessing and speculation had been circulating around a curious public wishing to hear any gossip of the affair, whilst those closer to the case attempted to make some official sense or reason of events.  Alone in the marital home and hardly capable of caring for herself, poor Alice Petler, totally in the dark as to her husband's wellbeing or even his whereabouts would have been more anxious than most. The Manchester Guardian was soon to be on the case and in their edition of December 2nd 1905, following the announcement that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Sgt Petler, they laid out the facts of the case for their readers. Under the heading of, 'CURIOUS CASE IN MANCHESTER.' they wrote

    'The Manchester Police are in search of one, who until a few days ago was a trusted member of their body - Sergeant Petler.  A warrant has been issued for Petler's arrest on a charge of stealing five £10 Bank of Scotland notes, five £1 notes, one £2 note and £60 in gold.  The case is regarded by the police authorities as a sudden and unaccountable lapse in honest living.  Petler was 46 years of age, a native of Beverley, and served for a time in the Coldstream Guards. He joined the Manchester city police force in December 1885 and on Thursday last, November 30, while holding he rank of sergeant clerk he absconded and it is supposed took with him the notes and cash.  Petler, we are officially informed was a man of excellent character and highly respected throughout the force.  The utmost confidence was placed in him both by his superiors and all the officials at the police court.  This confidence was shown at the annual meeting of the Police Athletic Club last month when he was elected assistant secretary, in which capacity he would handle very large amonts of money.  It is somewhat singular that the only monies missing are a portion of the property, of two prisoners whose cases were down for hearing on Thursday morning.  He had in his charge on numerous instances the money and property of persons awaiting trial.  A safe is provided at the courts for the property of prisoners and Sgt Petler was entrusted with the custody of the property, and consequently of of the key to the safe.  It was not until he failed to attend the courts on Thursday and the safe was opened that it was found anything was missing.  The method of dealing with prisoners money is briefly as follows:   The property of all prisoners is taken with the prisoners to the courts and the officer in charge of each prisoner and received from him a receipt for it.  Petler then had the custody of the property until it was either handed over to the prisoner on his discharge or transferred to the prison authorities if the prisoner was committed to prison. The two cases in which it is alleged Petler has interfered with the prisoners' moneys were disposed of by the magistrates on Thursday morning, and his action was brought to light when the police officers wanted to restore to the prisoners the property taken from them upon their arrest.
As mentioned earlier, Alfred Petler from Leicestershire was to make contact with the authorities in Manchester following the unexpected visit to Ketton of his brother John and upon being advised as the the circumstances of his brother's predicament, he made the journey to Manchester where in conversation with the Chief Constable he handed over all of the stolen cash, which would also include the three precious gold sovereigns which the children had been gifted.


Having restored the money to its rightful owners, the police in Manchester were apparently off the hook, but their efforts were now to be directed to the matter of their missing officer.  For 10 days, nothing was heard of the sergeant, who was without doubt suffering from some sort of temporary mental disorder and it seems, had made no efforts to seek help or advice.  The fact that he was at Melton Mowbray might have been considered, perhaps by his brother, but no useful information was discovered.  Back in Moss Side, his incapacitated wife Alice would by now have been completely helpless with no other family about her and tentative plans previously being prepared by the Police Welfare office for her removal to a place of care were rushed into being and she was to remain from that time for over a decade until the day she died at the end of the Great War in 1918.

Melton Mowbray is a market town which lies in the NE of Leicestershire in the English East Midlands.  Well renowned for it world-wide distribution of the ubiquitous Pork pies and the main supply of the very popular Stilton cheese, the town was especially famous for it being the venue of the then prestigious pastime of fox-hunting and other equestrian sports which attracted many hundreds of rich and famous visitors during the winter season. It is likely that John Petler was lucky to have found a room available at the very popular hunting box known as the George Hotel, which stood right in the centre of the season's activities and attracted its quests from around the world.  In Edwardian times, the activity was at its peak, especially in December and the days up to Christmas.

As to how it was, or even as to why John Petler failed to complete his anticipated journey to Leicester and fetched up instead at The George Hotel in Melton will more than likely never be known, as of course will the mystery of his rash and unorthodox behaviour in general in the preceding days.  Melton Mowbray was on the Syston and Peterborough Line which was a west/east branch line of the larger Midlands Counties Railway which plied its trade north and south of the country.  Melton was the largest populated town on the way back to Leicester and no doubt would have been an attractive pause to the troubled sergeant of police as he made his way back to certain personal humiliation and the likelihood of a prison sentence awaiting him.  Albeit then, the cold month of December, there would have been a lot of warmth in the bars and taverns of the crowded town and good food awaiting in the restaurants.  I have no doubt that John had retained some of the money and would have been comfortable as a tourist and who knows, perhaps he was deserving of a few days off work.

A Poison Draught and Just Two Pence

On the tenth day of Sgt. John Petler's mysterious absence from a normal life in Manchester, business was continuing as normal at the George Hotel in Melton Mowbray when at around 7.30 on the morning of Monday, 11th December, the resident manager instructed a member of his staff to check on Sgt. Petler in his room on the top floor, as he had not responded to a knock on his door earlier.  It was a shock for the young man as he is said to have found the recumbent and apparently lifeless occupant along with signs of a poison draught in a glass nearby.  It was soon clear that John Petler, at his own time and place of choice, had taken his own life and the consequences of the past few weeks were to no longer fester in his mind.  About one o'clock that afternoon Mr Robert Peacock, the Chief constable of Manchester received a telephone message from the police in Melton in which he was informed that 'a man answering the description of Sergeant Petler had been found dead in bed on the top floor of the George Hotel there'.

The body was positively identified as the missing sergeant by a  detective officer from Manchester who reported back to his chief officer that all the money he had in his possession at the time of his death was 'two pence'!  An Inquest was hurriedly held that afternoon at which the landlord of the hotel confirmed that "Petler had been staying at his house since the first of December and that when he did not answer the boot's call for breakfast, his room was burst open when he was found quite dead, with a bottle and a glass which had contained poison near him."  Det. Inspector Wood gave evidence of his service in Manchester, telling the Coroner that "... it was his duty to have charge of the prisoners property, and he failed to appear after the night of 29th November when an inspection revealed that that £117 in notes and gold was missing from the safe which was in his custody."   He also confirmed that the Chief Constable and Chairman of the Manchester Watch Committee had taken steps to have his bed-ridden wife removed to a hospital  He also told the jury that Petler's friends had given a guarantee that all the money would be refunded.  It was a short Inquest, probably leaving many questions unanswered but for the Coroner it seems that there was sufficient for the jury to return a verdict of 'Suicide while in a state of temporary insanity.'  Probably the only satisfactory conclusion.



So now, the citizens of Manchester were aware of the circumstances regarding the sad demise of Sergeant Petler, but many questions have lingered for me to ponder, questions to which I have been able to find the answers.  The most obvious of these relates as to why this obviously well respected and seemingly honest man, financially secure for the rest of his life, commit such an absurdly incompetent and almost impossible crime.  With every possibility of failure in his desperate enterprise what was it that drove him to end his life this way?  We have the obvious plight of his wife's terrible illness, whose condition had apparently become beyond his ability to cope, together with the possibility that the fact of there being no children in the marriage would likely have weighed heavily upon his domestic life.

I was also puzzled to read that John Petler had been found in his hotel room with his poison draught some ten days after his arrival in the busy town, so did he commit suicide on the night of his arrival and remain unnoticed or had he been out and about during his stay. Both the official Inquest at Melton Mowbray and the very basic information given by the newspapers of the day bore little assistance in learning of any explanation or medical opinion as to his state of mind. The Jury's verdict was 'Suicide while in a state of temporary insanity' and I would guess that as long as the Manchester police force had recovered their stolen money, then that  would have been the end of the matter.  The Manchester Guardian of Dec. 12th did make an attempt to steer away from the known facts of the case when having told their readers that '...the matter has been cleared up with dramatic suddenness with the officer having been found dead in a Melton Hotel,' they ventured to speculate or opine;
'.... It would seem that Petler was all but at the end of his monetary resources, and he chose to make a tragical end of a lamentable affair rather than surrender to take his inevitable punishment. It is less than a fortnight since Petler disappeared and with him, about £117 which came into his hands as an officer at the local police court.  Had he been a more deliberate and calculating criminal he would probably have waited till a later date, when, it is understood, a much larger sum would have come into his temporary charge.  Having yielded apparently to sudden impulse he could not pluck up spirit enough to make confession of his fault, and disappeared immediately from Manchester.  Finally, in eleven days after the theft, he has deemed the only way out of his trouble was the present desperate act  The description of the missing officer was widely circulated as soon as he went away, and it is a little odd that though he has lived not a great distance from some relatives in the Midlands since then, the police authorities of this city had received no intimation of his whereabouts.
Alice Petler was to live on for a further 13 years, totally immobile, in a Manchester Hospital bed.  She died on the 1st May, 1918 leaving an estate of £44 13s 2d - today, with a spending power of about £2,000.

© John McQuaid - 2017

Friday, 11 August 2017


The Story of the Webb Family of Melton Mowbray


A time of Social growth

At the arrival of the 20th Century in England when the long Victorian era was ready to hand over to the rule of King Edward VII, the small market town of Melton Mowbray along with the rest of the wider country, was passing through a phase of social extremities in that increasing poverty and a lack of resources amongst the working classes was reaching disturbing proportions.  This state of affairs was especially serious in the newly industrialised and crowded conurbations of the larger cities to where a great number of agricultural workers had desperately transferred in search of paid work, but at the same time it is a contrary fact that the proliferation of a new professional and managerial class of people and a growth of the gentrified classes, was perversely creating an ever widening gap within the general population.  Melton Mowbray, unlike many other towns of its size was principally populated by the latter social group, due to a large extent to the great attractions of its fox-hunting and sporting facilities which had continued to provide pleasure and good social entertainment for the wealthy and the gentry in particular who remained strangers to poverty.  But this fact is not to suggest that the ‘proletariat’ were spared in any special way, as with the decrease of the sporting activity the double indignity of irregular and low wages combined with a daily struggle to co-exist and support their extended families which were forced to shelter in often squalid and cramped living conditions. This was a situation which was to reach a peak, not to be properly dealt with until the passing of the disruptive Great War of 1914-1918.

Surprisingly, despite the bleak paucity of available or affordable accommodation for the majority of the working classes, the building of new homes did progress steadily in the town and fronting the main approach roads, large and expensive mansions continued to appear on previously virgin tracts of agricultural land, these usually outside the town limits due to a lack of suitable space within.  Many of these new dwellings were built for the use of local business people and for the ‘immigrants’ increasingly arriving in the town to work. Many of these incomers would remain as residents and endeavour to improve and benefit the area over the ensuing years and their descendants are today accepted as welcome and settled Meltonians.  It is the story of one of these incoming families from over a century ago that is the subject of my special interest.

Much of the new building work was carried out on the [A606] Burton Road which takes travellers South to Oakham and beyond.  A general perusal of Census records of 1891, 1901 and 1911 clearly shows a steady increase of real estate in the area as available plots about the town were purchased to be converted into homes.  From a random page which lists just seven houses in the 1901 Census can be found two architects, a solicitor, two managers of local businesses and the general manager of the local spinning mill, all being people having originated from places other than Melton.  Of special personal interest to me is the entry for No. 60 Burton Road which lists the recent arrivals from Stamford in Lincolnshire as the family of Mr Morpeth Webb, then aged 38 and described as an architect/surveyor who was born in North London.  Amongst the children is listed his eldest daughter, Mahala Theodora Webb, born at Stamford and now aged 14 years.  It was this young lady, who insisted on being addressed as ‘Dora’, who was to grow up to become quite a celebrity in the important art circles of the wider world.  She worked from and spent the great part of her life in the lovely old house which remains in Burton Road today, but now bearing the door number 106. This then, is the story of the Webb family



Early Life in Stamford ...

Born in the heaving and congested streets of Shoreditch in mid -Victorian London in the summer of 1861, Morpeth Webb was one of eight siblings born of the marriage of baker, John Adams Webb and his wife, Harriet Bannister.  In around 1870 the family moved North to the Peterborough area more than likely for reasons of employment and a young Morpeth would there complete his formal schooling and later be trained as an architect/draughtsman.  Qualifying in 1883 he practiced initially in Grantham, Lincolnshire and in July 1885, he married local girl Florence Sophia, the middle of the three daughters of paperhanger Joseph Cousins and Eliza Elvin.  Within the following year the newly-weds moved on once more to nearby Stamford, an attractive town which once straddled the Great North Road in Lincolnshire, but today is circumnavigated by the A1 by-pass.  On the 6th May 1886, Morpeth and Florence produced their first child, a girl, whom they were to name Mahala Theodora. (said to be native North American for ‘woman’, this unusual name was also that of Florence’s older sister, Mahala Ellen Cousins.) These given names were more than likely not to have been encouraged for long though, as the soubriquet ‘Dora’ soon became accepted as the norm.  She was joined by her sister, Millicent Cecilia - better known later on as ‘Millie’ -  in 1887; some five years later in 1892, brother, John Adams Webb arrived to complete the family.

.. and to Melton Mowbray.

As the old market town of Melton Mowbray expanded with the inevitable growth of the general population and the human movement from agricultural pursuits to employment in the factories of the towns and cities, new residences were required, especially for the professional people such as Mr Morpeth Webb who could comfortably afford the great expense of being an owner.  He had recently gained employment as an administrator with Colonel Richard Dalgliesh who was establishing the recently opened iron-foundry at Asfordby Hill to the northeast of Melton which was to play an important part in the brisk growth and success of the new business which led to the gainful employment of many local people. For the purpose of being handy to his place of work he was to purchase the pretty little semi-detached house at No. 60 Burton Road, an area which is known locally as 'Burton Hill'.  It was around 1900 when he arrived in the town with his family to take up occupation of their new home and for him, to commence his lifetime's work alongside Colonel Dalgliesh.

(This type of house would probably have cost about £250 -£300 at that time!)

The Webb Family Home, pictured in 2017 (Google pics)

The Census for 1901 tells us that in April that year, No. 60 Burton Road was still occupied by all five of the Webb Family.  The three siblings were all of school age - under 14 - and mother Florence is shown at the age of 35 as a 'Teacher of painting school -artist.'  It is known that Florence had a small studio attached to the house, where,  alongside her marital and domestic duties she taught small classes of local people in the popular art of painting, she specialising in pottery, her favourite discipline.

By 1911, the census shows that the five members of the Webb family were still all resident at the house in Burton Road and that father Morpeth Webb continued to be employed as an architect and surveyor in his managerial rôle.  At the age of 48 he was by now a valuable member of Colonel Dalgliesh's management team at the Holwell ironworks and had assisted especially in the fruitful search for and extraction of iron ore from the local area, which initially had been transported into the works at great expense by train.  Florence, is no longer shown as a being a teacher but she was known to carry on her painting until the time of her death. In her later years, she was to become well known as an active woman in social matters locally and to work or the advancement of many good causes.  Of her children, Dora, now 24, is shown as an artist and miniature painter,  now with an added note to the effect of; on her own account, at home' and not suggesting that Dora was a small woman, she was by now in the business of producing the increasingly popular art form of miniatures, a path which was to lead her a comfortable and independent living, but of much more personal importance, she had acquired celebrity and a respected position in the international world of miniature painters with a membership of the R.S.M. 'Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Grazers'.  

Sister, 'Millie', one year younger, is not shown in the record to be employed, but it is known that although not as successful as Dora proved to be, she too would produce saleable art.  John Adams Webb, now at the age of 18, was studying to be a land surveyor as his father had done before him, but he wasn't to know just then that a terrible war in which he would become involved with his contemporaries, was just three years away.  Neither of the girls married during their lifetimes and at the age of 22, brother John was in fact, to serve in World War I, first as a private in the 5th London Regiment and later in the Machine Gun Corps Regiment. He came through the conflict apparently unscathed and was discharged with his medals on the 8th February 1919.  On his return to Leicestershire he married Amy, with whom he lived for the rest of his life in Leicester.  There is not much more of his biography to be discovered.

Florence, a Talented Mother

During King Edward's reign after six long decades of rule by his mother the Queen Victoria, the Webb family seem to have assimilated well into the active life at Melton, finding it, very different from their days in genteel Stamford which was once described by Sir Walter Scott as "The finest stone town in England".  This especially so in the Leicestershire town during the hunting season of winter when it seemed like the whole world would descend on the town to hunt, drink, feast and be merry. As the main breadwinner, Morpeth pursued his administrative duties at the Holwell iron works through the remainder of his working life.

For the first few years of the children's lives, Florence proved to be unlike many women of the time, tied to the stove and the nursery to await her husband's return each day.  As a competent and trained artist from her youth, she had moved on from painting to become specialised in the genre of pottery and even later in her life, to a novel concept of creating pottery dolls.  As a trained teacher of painting, she not only worked with small mixed classes at the family home, but returned frequently to Stamford school where she had retained a class of hopefuls.  She was to influence both of her daughters in the pastime of art, but it is known as to whether young John was to be drawn into the group, especially as this was a hobby then predominantly of the female persuasion.  Dora especially, was to be the first to inherit her mothers talent for colours and the depiction of objects about her and was quite young when she first took the notice of the public, as this piece from the Lincoln, Rutland & Stamford Mercury of Friday, 24th April 1896 explained to its readers:
EXHIBITION OF PICTURES.  -  A number of pictures painted by the Stamford pupils of Mrs. M. Webb, of Melton Mowbray, were Exhibited in the Albert-hall, Stamford, on Thursday afternoon last, and were inspected by a large number of people.  An interesting programme of music was rendered at intervals by the pupils and others, and afternoon tea (given by the class) was served, the rooms being nicely decorated.  Altogether about 80 pictures were shown, and they were highly creditable to both the students and their mistress, especially considering that the majority of the pupils had only two terms under Mrs. Webb. The chief interest centred in some pictures painted by Mrs. Webb herself, including four charming views and four exquisite miniatures.  She also displayed some woodcuts, in engraving in which she is an adept. ...  and Miss Dora Webb, aged nine, a view which she painted without aid.  As a whole the pictures were exceedingly good, some of them showing marked ability, and Mrs. Webb is to be highly congratulated on the success which has attended her class.
Early kudos indeed, especially at the time for Florence herself, for an exposure she most certainly would have appreciated, but the small reference to a nine years old Dora, was most probably a spur for mother and father to get her off to some proper training.  In the meantime, sister Millie was not to let all of the light shine on her older sibling as she continued with her own work.

Alyn Williams RSM (President)

With the spark of an early interest shown in the nascent talent of young Dora Webb at the Stamford exhibition, there is little doubt that her mother would seek out the best chances for her young prodigy - if that is what she was going to be. She could not have done much better therefore, than to attract the attention of one of the leading miniaturists of the day to her daughter's work and before she was much older, Dora was taking her tutelage at the knee of the master, Alyn Williams who was regarded as the leading light in England at the beginning of the 20th century.  Whether the moment or the circumstances of this meeting at Stamford were those of pure chance, or carefully pre-planned, is today open to speculation.  It is known that as an artist of some respect Florence Webb was acquainted socially with Mr Williams from the world of art in which she moved and the place of meeting on that important day was a relatively small exhibiton in Stamford.  Whatever the fruits of this meeting, a very young Dora was to receive tuition and guidance from a man who really knew his subject.  As for the man himself, in his younger days, in 1902, a critic from the Daily Sketch wrote of him;
" ... The great revival which has taken place in what was  until a few years ago the lost art of miniature painting is due mainly to the son of that distinguished scientist, the late Mr W Matthew Williams F.C.S., My Alyn Williams, the founder and president of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.  He turned his attention to the art at an early stage, and after studying in London and abroad finished his academic work in the Academie Julien under Laurens and Benjamin Constant.  His first portrait, a beautiful miniature painting of Miss Yarrow, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1890, and since then his works have become familiar to visitors at the principal art galleries here and abroad.  Among Mr William's sitters have been King Edward and Queen Alexandra who each gave the artist a series of special sittings at Buckingham Palace."
together with a rather flowery critique of his work and style ...
'... he has a very sound understanding of what is essential in this delicate form of pictorial art, and combines cleverly in his work due respect for tradition with definite originality of method.  His touch is free and expressive, his drawing graceful and dainty, and his colour, always pleasantly harmonious, is at times remarkable for its strength and brilliancy.'

With the support of Williams and his connections within the world of miniatures, Dora went on to produce many more works of art, the majority of which were selected for public exhibition.  It is estimated that during her active life she was to produce more than 300 pieces of work which were exhibited exhibited in many major art venues around the world to much acclaim.  A quiet and polite young lady with few pretensions to greatness, Dora produced her works from her home and whilst never reaching the highest of high echelons, her creations were always considered desirable and new items were eagerly awaited to be despatched from her little home studio in Melton Mowbray and usually fetching high prices in a busy market.

Apart from reports of her exhibitions around the country and the showing of her work in foreign cities, little is heard of Dora or her family during the following two decades, which were of course to embrace the terrible war of 1914-18, but it is recorded that the Webb family took a very important part in the social life of their town.  This was especially so in the case of Millicent Webb who was to devote the whole of the war period to the voluntary nursing of the many soldiers recuperating the various battle fronts across France and Germany, who were now detained with varying degrees of shattered minds and disfigured bodies in the temporary military hospital at nearby Wicklow Lodge.  The Webb ladies were most likely attracted to this vital work in the knowledge that young sibling, John Adams Webb was manning a machine-gun in the killing fields of that awful passage of history.  More of Millie's story later.

A particularly impressive report on Dora's progress as a still aspiring artist was to appear in the Grantham Journal of 7th December 1907 which was headed;


Amongst the two hundred pictures exhibited in the old free library, Wellington Street, Leicester, by the Leicester Society of Artists, are two miniatures by Miss Doris Webb, of Melton Mowbray, deserving of special notice.


Part 2

The Great War of 1914-1918

Saturday, 3 June 2017


William Morris Colles M.A. D.D. (1819-1899)

The Revd. William Morris Colles M.A. (later to become a Doctor of Divinity - D.D.) succeeded Reverend Carr as Curate of St Mary’s Melton Mowbray in 1849 when he inherited sole charge of the living which was at the time sequestrated (i.e. not entitled to Church Revenues) as a result of the misdeeds of the then incumbent, but almost permanently absent, Reverend Robert Fleetwood Croughton, B.A..  As the young pretender to the occupation of the Vicarage, Rev. Colles valiantly held the fort until eventually, in 1867 and on the eventual death of Croughton, he was finally presented with the glittering prize of the Vicarage of Melton Mowbray after having been the Curate-in-waiting for some 18 long years.  William was an only son, born in May of 1819 at his family home of Wexford Castle in County Kildare, Ireland, the seat of his father, the late Lieutenant William Colles of Her Majesty’s 8th Regiment of Foot, possessor of considerable amounts of property and personal wealth. On the 5th December 1850 at St. Mark’s church in Marylebone, London, William was to marry Louisa Ann, eldest daughter of the late Rev. Henry Taylor, lately Rector of Stoke Rochford in Lincolnshire.  in 1874 he gained the designation of ‘Doctor of Divinity - DD’ a title by which he later became more familiarly known.

The good doctor’s overall tenure at Melton Mowbray - an historic market town noted for its hunting and fine foods which lies to the north east of Leicestershire in the East Midlands of England - was to extend for 40 long years, i.e. 1849-1889, a career which is today looked upon today as having been of overall benefit to the town and its parishioners.  Over such a long period of tenancy in overall charge, controversy was bound to arise from time to time , especially with the increasing arrival within his parish of non-believers, dissenters and nonconformists, but generally, the Curate who waited so many years to become vicar is widely and fondly remembered today far more for the many good things that he achieved for the town and the upkeep of his church, especially in relation to the maintenance and frequent renovation of the ancient church buildings and their environs, along with a dedicated interest in the education of the young and the general protection of his flock. Today his name is appropriately memorialised nearby with the continued existence of the Colles Hall in Burton Street - albeit now a modern pizza-parlour.              
A part of the Curate's biography which has not always been recalled in the conversations of politer circles relates to events of the year 1850, which is not only to be remembered exclusively as the year of his earthly marriage to Louisa, but also to the summer of that year when the young incumbent was to court much unwanted controversy.  Reportedly a little headstrong and occasionally outspoken in the earlier years of his new living, he was to provoke much serious public animus when, on the occasion of the passing of a well-known and loved local character against whom he seems to have adopted a certain hauteur, he steadfastly refused access to ‘his’ church of her unconsecrated remains. His alleged indiscreet and dismissive handling of a quite sensitive situation, was to create an indelicate incident which would anger not only his own local proletariat, but was to bring upon his head the censure of a national press, unwanted - some say unwarranted - exposure to the public gaze and a general discourse of religious morality within the country as a whole.  As short-lived as this controversy proved to be during those late summer months, perhaps in hindsight, a storm in a teacup, it is an engaging story which is perhaps well worth repeating.

A Corpse Awaits at the Church Gates

During the second week of the month of August in the long-ago Victorian summer of 1850, Elizabeth Wainer, reportedly a colourful and popular character and matriarch of an extended and infamous local family, died peacefully and apparently naturally, at her little home in Chapel Street, Melton Mowbray. A celebrated character of the working classes, ‘Old Betty’ is said to have paid scant attention to her religious and civic duties during her 60 plus years on earth and apparently instead had played out a dissipated and often drunken life amongst the men-folk and lower levels of the townspeople who dwelt mainly in the tight little alleyways and small rented houses close to mediaeval walls of the old town centre, earning a wage occasionally  in the employ of providing mainly menial services for the visiting gentry of the hunting fraternity. Matriarch Betty was, nevertheless, said to be dearly loved by her many family members and a large number of friends and colleagues who were liberally spread around the small population of about 3000 people then resident in the town. Unfortunately for the good Dr. Colles with only a short residence in the town thus far, his unhelpful and dismissive attitude both towards her actual death at this time, followed by the arrival of her body at the Church gates and finally, to her subsequent burial in consecrated ground, created his publicly reasoned objections to her admission to the house of God which he related to the grounds of her low social grouping and ‘risky’ reputation. His adamant refusal to accept the presence of her body within the bounds of the church building immediately engendered a great upheaval of public sympathy and general disapproval, not to mention a significant groundswell of general anger locally.  This unfortunate incident and its related discordance was not to escape the attention of a scandal-seeking local press and amidst the furore of the family and their allies, support for the actions of the Curate was to come initially in the guise of a small piece, tucked away on page 3 of the Leicestershire Mercury of Saturday, 17th August 1850:
DIED, on Saturday last, aged 66, Elizabeth Wainer, better known as “Old Betty,” who had been for half-a-century the keeper of a brothel in this town.  Great dissatisfaction was evinced by her relations and friends that the Rev. W. M. Coles, the curate, would not perform the burial-service over her body in the church, as the deceased had been duly baptised, (and, therefore, according to the Bishop of Exeter, “regenerated!”) christened, and confirmed, and had always paid church-rates.  Some few other parties, we find, think the rev. gentleman acted inconsistently, seeing that he did read the service at the grave-side, in doing which he spoke of the deceased’s hope of a joyful resurrection, and afterwards demanded the customary fees.  Now, we cannot coincide in this opinion.  Mr. Colles was not bound to admit the corpse into the church, while, we believe, he was bound to read the service at the grave-side:  as curate, he was also bound to ask for the fees - not for himself, but for the representatives of the non-resident vicar.  Nor can we join in blaming a clergyman because he hesitates in the performance of a solid mockery.  The less said on such an occasion the better.’

Fair comment perhaps, but being dismissive of the protests it was not to be not an opinion shared by another regional newspaper, a competitor, which was also to hit the news-stands that Saturday in August from the neighbouring county of Lincolnshire where ‘Correspondent‘ from the nearby Stamford Mercury, asserted to be ‘simply recording the facts as he was advised of them from a respectable source.’ He was to expound his alternative views beneath the one-line death announcement in the obituaries column, i.e.

‘At Melton Mowbray on the 11th, Mrs Eliz. Wainer, late Chapel Street.
Refusing to Bury the Dead. – In our obituary of this day will be found a notice of the death of a noted character in Melton; and it proved to be an event when the domineering spirit of priestcraft had an opportunity of venting its full spleen, both before the spirit had gone to the God who gave it, and also when there was nothing left but an inanimate lump of clay.  We shall simply record the facts as we are advised of them from a respectable source, and then leave all Christian people to judge of them.  Mrs Wainer was a public character for many years in Melton, and pursued such a course of life as no man would vindicate; but as there are always two sides to a question, we may be permitted to add that, wherever disease or destitution made its appearance in her neighbourhood, her’s was the heart and the hand ever foremost to mitigate suffering.  She was taken dangerously ill on Friday last, and wished for someone to pray by her; and, at her own request, the Curate of the parish was sent for.  Upon his arrival, he commenced a tirade against her respecting her past life, and resolutely refused to comply with her wishes at all; and had it not been for the goods offices of some neighbours, she might have left this world without any spiritual consolation whatever.  However, on Sunday morning she died; and on Tuesday her children were startled with the information that the clergyman would refuse the body admittance into the church, and would also refuse to read that part of the service at all.  Great, therefore, was the general excitement when the corpse arrived at the church gates, and no minister made his appearance according to custom; and still greater when, for the first time within the memory of man, the church doors were found closed against the dead.  After the mourners had waited for a sufficient time, they retired again with the corpse, amidst vehement cries of “shame” from the people, to the new Church of England burial ground, where ready stood the Rev. Wm. Coles, [sic] and he commenced reading the funeral service in his canonical dress.  The relatives of the deceased, however, refused to listen to him, and after depositing the body in the ground, they left the clergyman continuing to read the usual service for the dead, over the body which he had refused to admit into the church. The event has caused great excitement in the town, and is calculated to rend wider the division which, owing to such uncharitable courses, has for some time existed.’

‘He Needs Too Greatly to be Taught’

Whether or not the embattled Curate did actually read the offending and personal critique of his controversial actions in ‘The Mercury’ - which was the nearest local newspaper of the day - is not recorded and there is no reply to be found in later editions of that particular publication, but this was not to be the case with the Leicestershire paper however with whom Mr Colles was soon to be taking up his pen.  However, comment was soon to appear from a most unexpected source when The Times, the nation’s most read and respected - even revered - newspaper offered an even more vitriolic critique from the columns of its sister paper, The Examiner.  Without pulling any punches in an overt and vituperative attack on the Curate, he produced the following piece: 

‘In the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury for the 16th August, we find this narrative.
At Melton Mowbray, a Mrs Wainer, who had been compromised in character, but to the poor around her had been uniformly kind and liberal, was upon her death-bed; and the curate of the parish refused her own solicitation that he would come and pray with her. She died; and he refused admission of her body to the church, consenting only to so much of the burial service as was usually read upon the ground. The coffin and the mourners found the church doors closed. The people (the parishioners) yelled their disgust at this. The body was then carried to the cemetery, where the relatives and mourners left it; and the reverend gentleman performed as a soliloquy, so far as they were interested, what he considered to be the remainder of his duty. 
We say nothing of shutting the church doors. The reverend gentleman might do with the body any unseemly things he pleased, or might think it decent to enact. But who is this, disguised among the ministers of Jesus, who dares refuse to pray beside a dying woman – because she was a sinner? Who is this? It is the Reverend William Coles, [sic] of Melton Mowbray.
The Pharisees, as Mr Coles might do, objected to Our Lord that he had too much care for sinners. Only the Pharisees could move Him to anger. Whether Mr Coles be a High Churchman, or a Low Churchman, we know not. But we know that he ought not to be teacher in the Church of Christ – he needs too greatly to be taught.’
Whenever and wherever it was that the Reverend Colles did subsequently read this damning public exposé of his worldly alleged ‘misdoings’, one can only imagine today the inner sense of outrage and despair which he must have endured on seeing such derogatory and embarrassing personal criticism, especially so in a national newspaper which was after all, far from a private circulation but one available and circulated for the whole world to read. But whatever the spur, his calculated response was a swift one as he once more wielded his pen as a sword to enter combat with the following response which was to appear in The Times dated Wednesday, 28th August 1850.’
    I have just seen a paragraph from the ‘Examiner’ in your paper this day, which states, that Mrs Wainer, of Melton Mowbray, “was upon her deathbed, and the curate of the parish refused at her own solicitation that he would come and pray with her.”  I beg to state that this is a malicious falsehood.  As you have thought fit to bring this matter before your readers, I may add that Mrs Wainer has kept a brothel in this town for almost half a century (as I am credibly informed).  She sent for me and I went to her house, accompanied by the Rev. G.B. Hill, assistant curate of Melton: I preached the Gospel to her, prayed for her and exhorted her in the kindest manner to repent of her sins, and look to the Saviour.  I can prove this.  The Examiner represents me as a Pharisee, says, “Probably he preaches Phillpotts,” and adds, “We know that he ought not to be a teacher in the church of Christ, he needs too greatly to be taught.”
     I approve of the liberty of the press, as a safeguard for the liberty of the people, but I regret that your paper should be made the medium of circulating a false and malicious libel, followed by scoffing insinuations and assertions, under the semblance of zeal for the truth.
   It is true that the body of Mrs Wainer was not brought into the church.  She seldom darkened the church doors whilst living, and was not permitted to defile them when dead.  With reference to the yells of the parishioners, the Examiner states, “the people yelled their disgust at this.”  I defy the writer to produce a single respectable inhabitant of Melton Mowbray who joined in such yells, or sympathised with the mob.  I read the service as required by the law (which the Examiner describes as a “soliloquy,” notwithstanding the number of persons assembled on the occasion); and, with reference to my preaching, I teach in the church of Christ according to the ability which God has given to me.
    Hoping that you will insert this contradiction of the false statements which have appeared in your paper,
I am Sir, your obedient servant,

W.M. COLLES, Curate of Melton Mowbray.

The Vicarage, Melton Mowbray, Aug. 26.

The following week, The Examiner duly replied by return with the following:

‘The Times publishes a letter from the Reverend Mr Colles, the curate of Melton Mowbray, denying the material part of the charge which the Lincoln and Stamford Mercury had made against him, and which was copied into last weeks Examiner with a comment which the case quite justified.
   “She sent for me and I went to her house, accompanied by the Rev. G.B. Hill, assistant-curate of Melton; I preached the Gospel to her, prayed for her, and exhorted her in the kindest manner to repent of her sins, and look to the Saviour. I can prove this. The Examiner represents me as a Pharisee, says, “Probably he preaches Phillpots,” and adds, “we know that he ought not to be a teacher in the church of Christ, he needs too, greatly to be taught.”   I approve of the liberty of the press, as a safeguard for the liberty of the people, but I regret that your paper should be made the medium of circulating a false and malicious libel, followed by scoffing insinuations and assertions, under the semblance of zeal for the truth.   It is true that the body of Mrs Wainer was not brought into the church. She seldom darkened the church doors whilst living, and was not permitted to defile them when dead. With reference to the yells of the parishioners, the ‘Examiner’ states, “the people yelled their disgust at this.” I defy the writer to produce a single respectable inhabitant of Melton Mowbray who joined in such yells, or sympathised with the mob. I read the service as required by the law (Which the Examiner describes as a “soliloquy,” notwithstanding the number of persons assembled on the occasion); and, with reference to my preaching, I teach in the church of Christ according to the ability which God has given to me.”
On reflection Mr Colles will doubtless transfer his answer to the journal which originated the charge against him. Meanwhile we are glad to find, by this letter, that the worse half of the case, and the only part on which we commented, can be denied distinctly. The denial is quite satisfactory. We cheerfully retract our comment. 
Our readers will remember that we did not found our observation on that part of the case which Mr Colles recognises as correct – the shutting of the church doors upon the body, and the yelling of a mob in consequence. We did not, and we do not, comment upon this; because it has now, we regret to say, become so much a common practice, that it would not be fair, for this alone, to hold up individuals for censure.  If malicious falsehood prompted the original mis-statement, Mr Colles may rather thank us, than be angry with us, as the means of bringing it into the light. We may note that in condensing our report of the case we did not state, as Mr Colles seems to think, that so much burial service as he gave was an absolute soliloquy. We said it was so, in as far as the relatives and mourners were concerned; they being stated to have left the ground, refusing to be present at it. Mr Colles was too angry very clearly to understand what he read. We wish, for his own sake, that his reply had been written temperately; but in temper in such a matter we are far from desiring to make unkind comment. The accusation made against Mr Colles justified a momentary anger, and required an instant refutation.’
At this point it seemed that, according to my research, the matter had reached its conclusion; but it was not to be as battle was to be rejoined with a defensive gesture against the ‘impertinent’ instigators of this personal printed and public defamation against a respected member of the church and for this purpose a gathering of many of his most loyal ‘soldiers’ was held in the town. In the Leicestershire Mercury of 7th September 1950, the following appeared:
PUBLIC MEETING. - On Thursday evening, the 29th ult., a meeting of the inhabitants was held in the Church School-room, “to consider what steps should be taken in reference to the unwarrantable and false attack made in the Stamford Mercury upon the Rev. W. M. Colles, Curate of the Parish.”  The attack alluded to appeared in the Stamford Mercury of the 16th Ult., and falsely charged the rev. gentleman with refusing the request of an aged female of notorious character to pray with her on her death-bed.  The assistant-Curate, who accompanied him to her bedside, attested that her wishes were both kindly and fervently complied with.  The Times and Examiner have also taken up and more widely propagated the calumnious falsehood, - making its complete refutation still more needful.  At this meeting the speakers strongly condemned the conduct of the Stamford Mercury’s editor for putting forth this and many other falsehoods about our church, our ministers and our schools, which have latterly found a ready place in its columns.  It was decided not to seek redress for this last gross calumny in a court of law, but to undeceive the public respecting it by means of an address to the Rev. W. M. Colles, to be signed by the inhabitants and inserted in the Times as well as the local newspapers, including the Stamford Mercury, and also to circulate it by handbills in the town and neighbourhood. A subscription to defray the consequent expenses was at once entered into by the meeting, which was most numerously and respectably attended.  The address, with its numerous signatures, will be found among our advertisements.
     The Examiner of last Saturday, refers to the letter sent by Mr Colles to the Times, in refutation of the charge referred against him by the correspondent of the Stamford Mercury, and copied into the Examiner with a “comment which the case quite justified.”  Surely there are two very material words omitted from this sentence? it should read,  “the case, as stated,” etc.  The editor adds, after quoting the essential portion of Mr Colles’ letter, “On reflection, Mr Colles will doubtless transfer his anger to the journal which originated the charge against him.  Meanwhile we are glad to find, by this letter, that the worst half of the case, and the only part on which we commented, can be denied distinctly.  The denial is quite satisfactory.  We cheerfully retract our comment.  Our readers will remember that we d id not found our observation on that part of the case which Mr Colles recognises as correct - the shutting of the church doors upon the body, and the yelling of a mob in consequence.  We did not know, and we do not comment on this; because it has now, we regret to say, become so much a common practice, that it would not be fair, for this alone, to hold up individuals for censure.  If malicious falsehood prompted the original mis-statement, Mr Colles may rather thank us, than be angry with us, as the means of bringing it into the light.”  So far well.  We hope the matter will now be suffered to drop.  Mr Colles was justly accused and condemned;  he has cleared himself by a simple recital of facts - his fellow townsmen have affirmed his honourable acquittal in the most gratifying manner.  (Editor L. M.) 
So the editor of the Leicestershire paper seems to have weaselled his way out of the messy dispute with a form of apology - a little too oily in my opinion - but the curate’s approach of asking his parishioners for support this ‘acquittal’  in the form of a local referendum, paid for by the congregation, supported and signed in the form of a letter by at least one hundred names, he set about his demand for an apology by way of publicly advertising his anger at the allegations made.  He was even to charge the sum of 6 pence for a printed copy of the letter, but it seems to have been a resounding success and this appeal won the day when an extensive and scathing letter was passed to the Editor of the Stamford Mercury by church members expressing their views.  In the end, the very public matter was to eventually pass into the oblivion of the annals of time and William Morris Colles was to move onwards and upwards, to finally become the parish vicar and later, a Doctor of Divinity, whilst continuing to pursue his personal quest to improve the fabric of his place of work and to raise his own young family in the Parish, along with supporting the people of his flock.

Four Decades of Service and Dedication to the Parish

With the very public account in the Examiner, which seems to have drawn back on some of its initial, harsher criticism of Revd. Colles, a bottom line seemed to have been drawn under the Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Wainer affair, an unfortunate episode now seemingly forgotten and lost in the mists of time. There was indeed much more important work to be undertaken in a parish which to a great extent had become sorely neglected due to the prolonged absence and apparent disinterest of the incumbent Revd. Robert Croughton.  The foregoing events - which today might seem to have been perhaps just a storm in a tea cup - appear to have caused little detriment to his professional and personal standing.  He was to move forward with his head held high and to complete in all a grand total of 40 years distinguished service in all of which he displayed a genuine devotion to his chosen work. In total, he was to marry 644 hopeful young couples and to baptise some 2064 members of his flock across those years and these would include his own special contribution of three surviving children who were all born in the town; along with his son Morris, were included his two daughters Louisa Maria Ursula, who died at the age of 23 years in 1875 and Charlotte Ellen who would later assist her father with church matters, including dealing with much of the Parish’s administrative affairs during her father’s lifetime and incumbency as Vicar up to the time of his death. Charlotte died at Ealing in London in 1929 at the age of 75.

The Passing.

During his time in the market town of Melton Mowbray, Doctor Colles would frequently raise large amounts of money from his parish, often with more than generous donations from his own pocket and family purse for restoration work to the church superstructure and other grand related causes. It is known that the church was improved and renovated more during his living than at any other period. Significantly, he was a prime mover in the acquisition of many of the magnificent stained glass memorial windows which are still so impressive and regularly admired in St Mary’s church today.  Sadly, like all good things that pass before us, his sojourn in our earthly midst was inevitably to come to an end; even the wonderful William Morris Colles was not to prove himself immortal! He was to outlive his beloved wife Louisa by six years, who passed away in the spring of 1884.

Afflicted by his own ever-increasing and unremitting ill-health over a period of several months, he finally succumbed to the debilitating disease of Nephritis - a severe and painful inflammation of the kidneys. He was to pass through from his mortal existence quietly in his Burton Street vicarage during the afternoon of Friday 1st February 1888 and was to be finally delivered up to the arms of his Lord just three months short of his 70th birthday, this being some 40 years after his arrival in the small town which he came to love and adopt as his very own.

In the manner of an epitaph and thus far, still standing as an established commemoration of Doctor Colles’ 40 years dedicated service to the town, a building was constructed on land opposite the Church.  The Colles Hall in Burton Street, or to give it its formal designation, The Colles Hall Memorial Institute, was officially opened on Thursday 30th October 1890 by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough. Funded by public subscription in the Reverends’s name and memory, it raised initially £1068, leaving a debt of some £600 to defray the total cost, of which amount the Bishop said, “… there was such a good feeling in the parish which would not allow the remaining sum that was required, to be long unpaid.”  The Hall stands adjacent to what was once the Vicarage -now known to local people as the Blakeney Institute - in which the Colles family would have once lived. I have wondered if our subject would be amused if he were to return to the town some time soon to discover that the Hall which carries his name had by now been transformed into a popular pizza parlour. I might opine that by now having discovered something of the persona of the man, I have a sneaky feeling that he is in fact still looking down on the old town and is probably well aware of the situation.  In the context of life in the 21st century, he would perhaps grudgingly concede the situation as inevitable; some would say as inevitable as the removal of the carved hand pointing heavenwards which once adorned a small memorial stone located in the east precincts of the church of which he was once the vicar and which bears these few words:

‘William Morris Colles, M.A., D.D., rest in peace.’

(I have since been anonymously assured that the 'hand' was not in fact stolen, but lies stored safely today, within the church.)

There is a lot more to be told of within the seven decades of the useful and constructive life undertaken by the young man from Ireland who came to live amongst the people of Melton Mowbray in Victorian times, but having recollected merely a particular moment in his younger life, I will leave it here.

Reverend William Morris Colles M.A. D.D. 1819-1899.  R.I.P.



William Morris Colles (1855-1926) 

William was William and Louisa’s only son and it follows perhaps that the young man might well have taken his father’s full name at birth, though later in his life he was to be known generally as ‘Morris'.  Leaving home at quite a young age to seek a future elsewhere in the world, I doubt that his parents would have ever dared to guess along what path his future life might travel.  After reading law at Oxford and spending a short time as a trained Barrister, his attention and future life was to lie in the field of literacy and other arts.  He married in 1880, Fanny Elizabeth Bird.

© John McQuaid 2013