[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

The following is a selection of various court reports relating to women defendants in the mid-century, taken from the local papers. The style employed indicates that the journalists saw the misfortunes of the poor as suitable entertainment for the (more privileged) readership. Reports are verbatim unless otherwise notated.

Hastings & St Leonards News 1848

Catherine Jeffrey, a fine specimen of the Irish genus, with a black velvet bonnet mounted on her head in a very extraordinary and peculiar manner, namely, backwards with the crown upwards; and gifted with a most incomprehensible "brogue;" was charged by police-constable Hayward with begging at St Leonards and White Rock, on Thursday afternoon. She was drunk at the time, and greatly annoyed several ladies; winding up her delinquencies by begging of the constable, who forthwith took care of her, and consigned her to the comforts and quiet of the lock-up.

The prisoner stated that she never came to Hastings until the previous Wednesday, but had lived in Ninfield parish for many years, and was well-known to Dr. Watts of Battle. She was a "poor ould woman" and was looking out for work.

The Mayor discharged her, with an injunction to leave the town immediately, to which she responded with "Good luck to yer honor" and trudged off, apparently very well pleased at escaping the inconveniences of a visit to the town jail.

Hastings & St Leonards News, 1848

Jemima Lee, a gipsy looking lady, dressed in true sybilline style, was brought up in custody, charged with being a rogue and a vagabond.

Miss Bossom deposed, that on Saturday last the prisoner called at her father's house and asked if they had any china or glass that wanted mending, and followed up the enquiry by offering to tell her fortune, assuring her that she would tell her "who the gentleman was." Witness did not have her fortune told, and had not been visited by the prisoner before.

The witness's sister corroborated the above.

The prisoner said she merely went to the house to see if there was any china or glass to mend, but admitted having asked "a little about fortune telling." She was a stranger to this part of the country, her native place being Gravesend, in Kent. Was no relation to the Bexhill Lees, and never visited the Hastings Races [at Bulverhythe]. Could not tell fortunes, or else she could have told her own. She had never been locked up in her life before, and hoped the mayor would "look over it that once, and she would never do it again."

A man who travelled about the country in company with the prisoner, was called in, they were both ordered to quit the town directly.

Hastings & St Leonards News 1848

Ann Murphy was brought up by police-constable Adams, and charged with wandering about the town begging; she had been dodging the police for some days, and upon the previous day, after being cautioned by Adams, and getting some distance from him, she made some very impertinent actions.

Committed to Hastings Gaol for seven days to hard labour.


Hastings & St Leonards News 1848

Sleeping out

Catherine Abbely, aged 34, with a child in her arms, was brought up in custody of Sergeant Ginner, who stated that on the previous night, at about half-past ten o' clock, he found the prisoner lying down on the ground with her child on Mr. Fielder's premises at the Priory; and on his interrogating her, she said that she had no lodging; on which he told her to go to the station; this she refused to do, and notwithstanding all his persuasions, persisted in remaining where she was. He then endeavoured to remove her, on which she became very abusive, and screamed "Murder", to the annoyance of the whole neighbourhood, and was very noisy and troublesome, being evidently drunk. In removing her to the station, he had to drag her a considerable distance.

The prisoner denied having been drunk, and said that she was suffering at the time from hunger, fatigue, and "trouble." The police were "such brutes and such liars" - they had used her shamefully, worse than a dog ought to be treated, much more a female. They had torn her gown, and dragged her in the mud, and Sergeant Ginner had struck her across the leg with his staff, in proof of which she exhibited a frightful bruise.

Sergeant Ginner denied having drawn his staff at all.

Mr. John Fielder, on whose premises the woman was found, stated that being unable to get rid of her himself, he went for the police, who having in vain tried to persuade her to go to the station, were under the necessity of removing her, in doing which he did not see them use any unneccessary (sic) violence.

The prisoner then committed to the town jail for ten days.

Hastings & St Leonards News, January 1850
Christmas fare in the Workhouse

Elizabeth Meek was "charged with being guilty of misbehaviour in the Workhouse", she being an inmate.

Mrs Meek brought in some pieces of plum-pudding on a plate which she placed on a chair in the women's day room. A child of Mrs Quinnell's endeavoured to take a piece, and knocked it on the floor. Mrs Meek slapped the child, and "words arose." Mrs Meek swore and threw the largest piece of pudding at Mrs Quinnell's face, who returned it likewise. The pudding was thrown five or six times, then Mrs Meek "dabbed" it in Mrs Quinnell's face.  

A fight ensued. Mrs Meek tore off Mrs Quinnell's cap, and pulled her hair. The matron broke up the brawl.

Prisoner threw the onus on Mrs Quinnell; "she stigmatised the witness as 'hypocryps,' and complained loudly of the violent temper of the matron, who acted towards some of the paupers with great partiality, and was frequently in the habit of calling prisoner a 'dirty gipsy' and a 'lazy wench' which latter epithet prisoner contended was exceedingly improper to apply to a married woman."

Earl Waldegrave sentenced Mrs Meek to fourteen days imprisonment.

Hastings & St Leonards News, 1852

Catherine Smith, about 50 years of age, an itinerant vendor of stationery, was charged with being drunk.

Police-constable Jones said that on Saturday evening he found the prisoner lying flat on her back on the pavement in front of the Pelham arcade, with about 150 persons round her. She was in a most helpless state of intoxication, and it required a stretcher to convey her to the watchhouse.

Discharged, with a caution.

Hastings & St Leonards News 1855

Louisa Jones was charged with begging.

Police constable Jones said - I was standing at my door yesterday in All Saints' street, when I saw the prisoner knock at every door, one after another, and ask for alms.

Prisoner admitted the charge.

Sent to prison for fourteen days.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1860

Levina Ann Simmons, a richly dressed "fair and frail one", living at Halton, was summoned on the complaint of Sergeant Jones, for creating a nuisance [ie urinating] in a doorway in Robertson street, at midnight on the 29th ult.

In consequence of the frequent complaints of tradesmen in Robertson street, orders were issued to the police to report any person so acting; and proceedings were taken against the present defendant, as a warning to others.

Sergeant Jones proved the offence, which was stoutly denied by Miss Levina.

Fined 5s and costs (11s); in default twenty-one days imprisonment. A week allowed for payment.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1861

Ann Cripps was found by police-constable James Jones, about half-past ten o' clock on Saturday night, quite drunk and fast asleep, on the steps of Pelham place. She had a young infant in her arms.

Ann Welling, a gray-haired widow woman, having a boy of seven years old with her, had been found by police-constable James Jones, drunk and asleep, in the doorway of 40 High Street, at a quarter to twelve on Saturday night.

The above promised to leave the town immediately, and so were discharged.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1861

Caroline Nicholson, an old woman of 65, of the "no home, no occupation" class, was brought up on a charge of being drunk, incapable of taking care of herself, and causing a mob to assemble at Grand Parade, on the previous evening.

Police-constable Donnett found prisoner lying in the roadway opposite grand Parade, about 6 o' clock insensibly drunk, and with a mob of 200 persons assembled round her. He was obliged to get a donkey-chair to take her to the station-house.

Prisoner, according to her own account, had met with some of those "good people" who are everlastingly giving "ale" or "spirits" to the wandering mendicants they meet with.

Superintendent Glenister said the woman was a professional beggar.

The Mayor thought it was an aggravated case, and inflicted a fine of 20s. In default of payment, prisoner was sent to become a compulsory guest with Mr. Sanders, of Lewes, [prison] for 21 days.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1861

Strange lodgings
Harriet Bodle, 21, a servant-girl, who appeared sans head-gear, was charged with being found sleeping in the open air.

Police-constable Henry Gain said he found prisoner asleep under the lamp opposite the stables at the top of High street, at half past three that morning. She could give no account of herself beyond stating that she had only just sat down there, and he took her into custody.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1865

A troublesome woman.
Frances Moore, a widow, who is well-known to the guardians and magistracy, was charged with being drunk and disturbing the peace and using abusive language. Prisoner carried a child in her arms.

Police-constable James Dobson said that at twenty minutes to three o' clock that morning he saw prisoner in John street, making a great noise, and swearing, whilst she sat on a step. The language she made use of was "audacious". She was drunk. Witness had previously cautioned the woman.

Prisoner (a native of Ireland) was very vehement in her protestations of sorrow &c;, she whined out numerous petitions for forgiveness. She charged the constable with drinking at a public-house, and with ill-treating her.

Inquiry was made into the charge, but the woman could not tell at what time the dereliction of duty took place, not intelligibly give any details.

The constable denied the charge in toto.

Superintendent Glenister said the officer was a steady man who had been in the force a long time, and there had never been a complaint against him.

(To prisoner) You have been drunk for two days.

Prisoner partially admitted the statement. She had been in the Union [workhouse] since the autumn, but came out on Saturday. She would go back directly if the Mayor would set her free.

It appeared there had been complaints respecting prisoner's disturbance from residents of High street, &c. The Mayor gave prisoner a suitable admonition, and in default of payment of a fine of 10s, sent her to prison for twenty-one days.

Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1869

Ann Miles, an elderly woman, whose face betokened a love of strong drink, was charged with being drunk and using bad language. Police-constable Wilson found prisoner in London road, St Mary Magdalen, on Saturday night, at a quarter-past ten, very drunk, holding a lamp-post, and swearing at a mob of boys who had assembled. She would not go away, and was locked up.

Prisoner said a "drop of drink" which she had had given her has "overcome" her. She was very sorry. Fined 5s and costs; in default, five days' imprisonment.


Hastings & St Leonards News, 1848

Georgiana Stevens [aged 15] made her sixth appearance before the magistrates charged with stealing a plate and cloth on the previous afternoon. She stated that the articles had been given to her by "Gaudie", the shrimp boy, to carry home for him. This renowned individual, on making his appearance, denied having given any such commission to the obliging young lady, upon which the latter soundly told him that he was drunk at the time; to which "Gaudie" made a positive denial, pleading that he was only asleep, having chosen for his sofa one of those comfortable pieces of furniture which adorn our stade, and go by the name of capstans. Miss Georgiana then owned that he "wasn't quite drunk" and on being asked how she could be aware of his inebriety while he was asleep, said that when he woke up he walked "staggery".

A witness was then called, who stated that while in the Fishmarket on the previous afternoon, he saw the shrimp-boy asleep on a capstan, and saw some young men come along who moved a dish and a cloth from one side of the capstan to the other, telling the prisoner, who was close by, not to meddle with it, which she speedily disobeyed, and he gave chase; on being caught, she said that she was going to take care of the articles, and on being told to take them back, at first refused, but afterwards did so.

The prisoner, as usual, was full of solicitations and promises, curtseying and begging pardon, declaring her innocence, and promising "honor bright" never to do so any more.

The evidence being incomplete, the "little nuisance" was discharged, and the somniferous "Gaudie" admonished to find a more suitable time and place for his slumbers in future.

From Hastings gaolkeeper James Wellerd's journal, 1851

May 28th. Georgiana Stevens Disobeys orders -talking to boys in the street ordered that her allowance shold be reduct to Bread and water for three days onely.

June 4th. Georgiana Stevens Charged with Breaking windows ordered that her allowance should be reduct to Bread and water for 3 days onely.

June10th. Georgiana Stevens Charged with breaking a pot, ordered that her allowance should be reduct to Bread and water for 2 days only. [A fortnight later she broke a water pitcher and incurred the same penalty.]

[Georgiana was committed to 14 days' hard labour as a Rogue and Vagabond on September nineteenth, the same on October 15th.]

September 22nd, Georgiana Stevens charged with Disorderly conduct Fasting in [fastening in] the Matron upstairs and com downstairs in order to maker har eskape ordered that har allowance should be reducte to one pound of Bread per diem for 3 days.

Hastings Gaol in 1823, drawn by W G Moses.
The Bourne now runs straight through the site.

Hastings & St Leonards News, 1851

Georgiana Stevens, 16, pleaded Guilty to a charge of stealing on November 28th, 1851, a quantity of white rags, value 1s., the property of John Sargent.

Considerable interest was felt in the case of this unhappy girl, who, for the last four years, has been the terror of the shopkeepers throughout the borough, owing to her incorrigible and adroit pilfering habits. The prisoner's mother appeared in Court, in tears, declaring that she found it impossible to do anything with her unfortunate offspring.

The Recorder recapitulated the misdoings of the prisoner, and commented on the many proofs of her incorrigible penchant for stealing. She had been nineteen times apprehended, and three times sent to Lewes [prison], while this was her second conviction for felony. The ordinary discipline of the gaol appeared to have no effect upon her, as she completely set it at defiance. He had made careful inquiries as to the character of her offences, and the result had been entirely unfavourable to the prisoner, and a very painful result was now unavoidable. After giving the prisoner a severe lecture, the learned Recorder sentenced her to seven years' transportation, at the same time signifying his intention of doing his utmost to obtain admission for her into some public institution, where some corrective discipline specially applicable to her case might be carried out. In the absence of proved insanity, this was the only way in which he could deal with such a case.

The prisoner was committed for trial on November 30th, 1851; and, while in prison, conducted herself in a most outrageous manner. Once she broke out of her cell, and three times she concealed herself so as to cause great anxiety and difficulty in finding her whereabouts, having on one occasion made an ascent up the chimney. She was repeatedly breaking windows, and damaging such articles as came within her reach, even such materials as the stove and the hinge of the door. Bread and water for three days formed the punishment for these misdeeds on each occasion. During her presence in Court this day, although looking rather scared at first, the prisoner shewed great indifference, apparently taking an agreeable kind of interest in the proceedings going forward.

[She was sent to Millbank Penitentiary for seven years.]


[Excerpt from the gaol keeper's journal from J. Manwaring Baines, Historic Hastings, Parsons, 1955.

Last modified 18 November 2002