The Life and Crimes of Alfred Hirdle
Alfred Hirdle was not much of a career criminal, but he found himself on the wrong side of the law with alarming regularity from 1868 to 1900, due to his excessive drinking and deplorable resultant behaviour.
Apart from his usual drunk and disorderly conduct, refusing to leave local inns and altercations with the local constables called to assist exasperated public house landlords; he also faced more serious charges. Attempting to derail a train, arson, and, most upsettingly, violent assault of his wife also appear in his record, so he cannot be seen as just a jolly village drunk, as his drinking led to far darker deeds. I’m sure his actions led to untold misery and hardship for his parents, and later his wife and children, who also suffered the financial implications of the fines handed down to him and his long absences whilst incarcerated.
He fought with the police, argued with the magistrates, and treated the parish poorhouse as his personal bath-house. Such attitudes were well outside the social norms of Victorian sensibilities.
There are sometimes many months between offences. Either he had jobs and kept sober during those periods, or drank to a lesser degree that didn’t result in the involvement of the local constabulary.
Yet by the end of his life, Hirdle had achieved almost ‘local celebrity’ status, purely due to the remarkably high number of convictions he had had, and his many visits to H.M. Prison at Bedford. Not many country labourers had news of their death mentioned in the London Evening Standard, but news of his passing was picked up and copied nationally, as ‘interesting’ column-filler for local newspapers.
Early Life and Family
The 1851 census took place on 30th March. The Aspley Guise return shows several Hirdle families, and many of the males were carpenters. In “New Town, Aspley Guise” (now known as Mount Pleasant) lived the household of John and Eliza Hirdle, although he was away that night.
According to the book The Story of Aspley Guise (1980, Woburn Sands District Society) which examined the census return that year, this was one of a block of four cottages on the western side of the road, about where nos. 40-46 Mount Pleasant are now. Eliza Hirdle, 33, was there with her children: Mary Ann, 14; Samuel, 10; George, 6; Caroline, 3 and Eliza, 2. John Hirdle, 36, who was also a carpenter, was away at his brother’s house in Barn Street, Stoke Newington, Hackney. Alfred Hirdle just misses being on the 1851 census, as he wasn’t born until 12th August that year. He was baptised at Aspley Guise on 1st November 1856.
The 1861 census was on the night of the 7th April. Their two eldest children had now left home, and Caroline is not present, but George and Eliza are still there, with the addition of Alfred, 9; Robert, 6, and John, 4. Also living with them was a grandson, called Charles H. (Hatton) Hirdle, the son of Mary Ann, who had left home. Three of the Hirdle children went on to emigrate to Australia, but Alfred grew up to live in Aspley Guise and then Ridgmont. The rest of this research deals with Alfred Hirdle’s life.
There are several occasions on which he was convicted at court according to the Gaol Registers, but no matching report appeared in the newspapers. The newspapers relied on a report being filed by their local reporter in that town, so if they were absent, or there was no local representative at that period, no report was printed. The following news reports come from newspapers which have been scanned and made available online by the British Newspaper Archives at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
This means they are searchable and provide instant access to specific keywords without having to manually search decades of newspapers by hand. The stories were found in the pages of:
BM – The Bedfordshire Mercury
BT – The Bedfordshire Times
HA – The Hertfordshire Advertiser
LBO – The Leighton Buzzard Observer
LT – The Luton Times
NM – The Northampton Mercury
These reports have been copied exactly as they are, therefore some reports use ‘Hirdle’ and others ‘Hurdle’. The Bedfordshire village and parish of ‘Ridgmont’ is often reported under the old spelling of ‘Ridgmount’.
Other information comes from Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service database of criminals, as taken from the Bedfordshire Gaol Registers. These are available to search at http://apps.bedford.gov.uk/grd/ and various online genealogy websites. There may be further records in the Woburn Petty Sessions records at Bedfordshire Archives. These have not been examined.
Descendants of the Hirdle family have also generously contributed information from their family tree, for which I am most grateful.
News Reports and Official Records
The first report I can find about Alfred Hirdle is fairly typical of those that will appear for rest of his life. He had been arrested for drunken behaviour, and was given a fine:
4th July 1868 – BM
“David Burgin, of Ridgmount, and Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley, were both convicted of drunkenness and fined the drunkard’s penalty.”
It does not specify how much the fine was, but Hirdle must have paid it. However, it seems this was no deterrent to the 16-year-old, who was back in trouble by the end of the next month, when he was 17.
29th August 1868 – BM
“Commitments to the Bedford Gaol – Alfred Hurdle, 14 days, for being drunk at Aspley.”
A repeat offence, so soon after the first, led local magistrates to decide the short, sharp, shock of prison might put Hirdle back on the straight and narrow. Thanks to the Gaol Register records indexed by Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service, we can see that this was listed as his first offence with a conviction recorded, so the one from July must have been overlooked.
In later Bedford Gaol records, a general description of him is given. Hirdle was 5ft 4ins, with dark hair. His education is described as “Imperfect”, and his religion was always given as “Church or England”. (Apart from between June 1879 and April 1880, when he gave “Wesleyan”.)
Most of Hirdle’s convictions were with ‘Hard Labour’ for the duration of the sentence. This description of what that entailed in the 1830’s comes from Eric Stockdale’s “Bedford Prison – 1660-1877”:
“…during the four summer months they were on the treadwheel for ten hours a day. During their one-third rest periods they were still required to walk in a circle. Whilst on the wheel they trod forty-eight steps a minute, each step being seven-and-a-half inches. This was the equivalent of climbing a mountain every day, and on a very poor diet indeed. The ration was thirty-four ounces of bread a day, one ounce of cheese, with an extra ounce on Sunday and Thursday, and two onions a week… the only beverage is cold water.”
By the time Hirdle was incarcerated there, they had moved on to “The Crank” and “Shot Drill”. The Victorian Crime and Punishment website at http://vcp.e2bn.org/ describes these punishments in detail:
“The Crank was a pointless soul destroying form of labour but one that could be carried out in the cell. The Crank consisted of a large handle with a counter. The prisoner had to do many thousands of turns a day without any product of their hard work. Sand or gravel was simply churned around a drum. The crank handle was attached to a set of cogs, which pushed a paddle through sand, and Warders could tighten up the crank, making it harder to turn: hence their nickname “screws”. Each turn of the handle was recorded. Most prisoners had to complete 10000 turns a day. Meals came to depend on a required number of turns being performed. A prisoner needed 2000 to get breakfast 3000 for dinner and 3000 supper and a further 2000 before they could go to bed. Crank labour was considered particularly suitable for prisoners confined in isolation in their cells.
Shot Drill. The prisoner had to lift a heavy iron cannon-ball, bringing it up slowly until it was on a level with their chest, then carry it a measured distance (usually 3 steps to the right), put it down move back three paces and repeat the task with another one. Warders shouted orders while prisoners, sweating profusely, moved cannon-balls with precision from one pile to another. Robert Evan Roberts, keeper of Bedford Gaol in 1868, complained that the Shot Drill and the Crank were the only work he was allowed to give to 701 out of 842 prisoners passing through the gaol in the previous year.”
Hirdle had no convictions or press report about him in 1869. There are only two entries for a Hirdle/Hurdle, in Aspley Guise, during that year. The first is for a John Hirdle and Henry Clarke being committed to Bedford Gaol in April, to await trial for stealing fowls. They had stolen seven live birds belonging to George Whitman, valued at 20s. John was described as a 19-year-old labourer. It looked as if perhaps Alfred was using an alias, but it was mentioned that John had had a conviction for felony in 1863, which means it cannot have been Alfred. They received 18 months’ hard labour.
Secondly, a Charles Hurdle was convicted of using profane language on 6th November. He had a fine of 2s and 15s. costs or 10 days. Alfred Hirdle’s next court appearance was for something far more serious…
29th January 1870 – BT
“DIABOLICAL ATTEMPT TO UPSET A TRAIN. A Special Petty Session was held at Woburn on Wednesday, Jan. 26th, before C. S. Parker, Esq., when three young men, Edward Cook, Alfred Hirdle and Luke Dickens, labourers of Crawley and Aspley Guise, were charged by the officers of the London and North Western Railway Company, for that they did unlawfully, maliciously, and feloniously put and place upon and across a certain railway, to wit the London and North Western Railway, six cast iron chairs and one wrought iron rail, with intent to obstruct and overthrow and destroy the engine and carriages using such railway and then and there travelling thereon, at the parish of Husborne Crawley, on the 17th Jan., 1870.
On the evening of Jan. 17th the train leaving Bedford at 4.23 passed along the line all right, but the next up train leaving Bedford at 7.20 was nearly thrown off the rail at Crawley crossing. It jumped and swayed so that the driver could not say whether the engine was on the line or not, so severe was the oscillation. The obstruction, however, was finally removed by the iron “cowguards” in front of the engine, and the train passed on its way, the passengers little dreaming of how near they had been to a railway smash. A search was instituted and six iron chairs were found broken on the side of the rails, and a long iron rail weighing 3cwt. was found between the rails, which had been twisted about and dented by the “cowguard.” It seems a perfect miracle how the engine could have kept on the rail and overcome so serious an obstruction and proceed in safety. The three prisoners were now charged with placing the six chairs and the rail on the line for the purpose of causing an accident. The following is an outline of the evidence, which was too lengthy to transfer in full to our columns.
Henry Howe, the engine driver of the 4.38 train from Bedford to Bletchley, proved that he drove his engine past the Husborne Crawley crossing about 5 o’clock on the evening of the 17th January, and met with no obstruction.
John Perkins, the engine driver of the 7.23 train from Bedford to Bletchley, proved that he drove his engine safely and met with no obstruction till within about two yards of the platelayers hut, near Husborne Crawley crossing, when suddenly the engine nearly jumped off the rails, so much so that he did not know whether it was on the rails or not, and it kept jumping several times. The engine removed something, and jumped a great deal; when he returned he saw a rail lying between the rails. Joseph Clarke, his fireman, corroborated him.
Wm. Brown, a platelayer, visited the spot before 8 the next morning, and found six iron chairs all broken, lying each side of the rails, and an iron rail weighing 2cwt., which had been dented by being struck by an engine “cowguard.”
John Fryer saw three men going towards the spot about 5 o’clock on the evening of the 17th; they ran away when they saw him, and he went towards them.
Emma Sinfield and William Grace proved seeing the prisoners loitering about near the spot during the evening of the 17th, and also on the following morning.
Elizabeth Williams, the wife of the railway policeman, saw the prisoner Cook to towards the spot on the following morning, and he appeared to be looking about examining the line there, and then he ran away across a field.
Henry Williams, police constable on the London and North-Western Railway, went to the spot the following morning and found the six iron chairs broken up, lying by the rails, and the iron rail. The massive iron chairs were produced (sensation) He saw footmarks there. He had some conversation with the prisoner Cook, who said he had been to Salford with Hirdle and Dickens. He said he had asked them whether that, pointing to a sandstone, “would throw the train off,” and that Hirdle had told him “no, but a horseshoe would.”
John Worrall, station-master at Woburn Sands, proved some admissions made by the prisoners as to their being on or about the line that evening near the spot.
Frederick Wallis, inspector on the London and North-Western Railway deposed to a conversation with the prisoners, in which they contradicted each other as to why they were loitering about the line. He gave Cook into custody.
Samuel Armstrong, police-constable, saw Dickens leaning against a gate the following morning; when he saw the policeman coming towards him he ran away. He took prisoners, Hirdle and Dickens, to the spot. He took their boots and examined the footmarks, and made a print alongside with Hirdle’s boots, and they corresponded. Cook’s shoe corresponded with another mark. He apprehended Dickens, who said he was there.
Superintendent Shepherd apprehended Hirdle, conveyed him to Woburn Police-station. While in a cell, the prisoner Cook being in the adjoining one, Cook cried out, “Stonney.” Hirdle replied from his cell, “Hulloo.” Cook continued, “It’ll do me, my being down there next morning.” Hirdle afterwards said, “Old Luke wanted for me and you to hook it; but I said no, I shall stand by _____ ground.” He patterned Hirdle and Cook’s boots with the marks at the spot; they corresponded exactly. Cook’s boots had lost some nails.
This concluded the evidence for the prosecution, and the prisoners heard it read over to them, and on being cautioned by the magistrate that whatever they said would be written down and read at their trial, and being asked what they had to say, each replied, “I have nothing to say; I did not do it.” Dickens and Cook each called a witness.
Martha Dickens, the mother of the prisoner Dickens, proved he was at home on the night in question at eight o’clock, and when she heard of it she said to him, “If you have done this you must expect to suffer.” He replied to her, “If I have done it, mother, I hope G___ may strike me down dead; for I never went anear, nor ever thought of doing such a thing.”
Elizabeth Cook, mother of the prisoner Cook, said her son was at home at seven o’clock that night. When he was in custody she asked him to tell her the truth, and he said, “I have told the truth; I am not guilty of that, if it was the last word I had to speak.”
The prisoners were then fully committed for trial at the Assizes.”
Hirdle was the eldest of the three, at 18, Dickins was 17 and Cook just 16. The ‘chairs’ mentioned are not items of household furniture; a ‘chair’ in the railway industry is the fitting which is bolted to a wooden sleeper to hold the rail in place. They were very heavy, large lumps of metal. Some news reports at the end of his life say Alfred was apprenticed to a tailor. If so, this could not have lasted very long, as here he is aged 18, described as a labourer.
The Assizes did not take place until mid-April. There were 35 prisoners for trial, on all sorts of charges, (including an action brought by a tradeswoman for loss of her daughter’s services through seduction and breach of promise to marry!) When their case came up, despite the footprint-evidence, “many witnesses were examined, but the guilt was not brought home to the prisoners, who were acquitted.” It is not until the autumn of that year that he reappears in the press again.
13th September 1870 – BT
“Alfred Hurdle, of Aspley Guise, labourer, was charged with being drunk at Aspley Guise on Sunday, the 4th inst. Fined 5s. and 9s. 6d. costs. Paid.”
15th November 1870 – LBO
“Commitments to the County Prison – Alfred Hirdle, three months, in default of finding sureties for drunkenness at Aspley Guise.”
Hirdle had been unable to find someone prepared to put money up to say he would behave and not get drunk and disorderly. If he was found in such a state, the person providing the surety would then lose their money. His reputation was obviously well known.
During the census of 2nd April, 1871, Hirdle isn’t recorded at home with the rest of his family, as he was a prisoner in the Woburn police station! He appears under the Leighton Street household of Superintendent Shepherd as Alfred Hurdle. As well as Shepherd’s wife and four children, there are three Prisoners listed for the night. Hirdle is listed as a labourer, but, bizarrely, under where born, “Beds. Ireland” has been entered. Presumably, he was awaiting sentencing again, which duly came:
8th April 1871 – NM
“Alfred Hirdle, three months, for drunkenness, at Woburn.”
15th August 1871 – LBO
“Drunkenness. At Woburn petty sessions, on Friday last, before C. S. Parker, Esq., Police-constable James Lunniss charge Alfred Hurdle, a dissipated character, of Aspley, with being found drunk lying in the road to the great danger of himself and everybody else, on the 7th inst. The defendant was fined 5s and costs, and, as he has been convicted of the same offence previously, more than once, and, as Superintendent Shepherd now produced a certificate of those convictions, the defendant was further ordered to find sureties for future good behaviour. Major Warner the chief constable of the county was also on the Bench.”
25th November 1871 – BT
“Alfred Hirdle, 3 months, in default of finding sureties for being drunk at Aspley Guise.”
23rd July 1872 – BT
“Petty Sessions – Alfred Hirdle, 20, labourer, Aspley, was charged with being drunk at Aspley. Police-constable Lunniss proved finding the defendant rolling about the street at half-past-ten o’clock at night; he was taken away once by some women, but came back again, and was then taken away by some men and locked in a stable. Superintendent Shepherd proved a previous conviction. Fined 5s. and costs, and ordered to find sureties for good behaviour.”
2nd December 1873 – LBO
“Petty Sessions – A Dangerous Drunkard. Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley, was charged with being drunk, at Ridgmount, on the 19th November. Police-constable Andrew Pickering found him, at half-past ten o’clock at night, shouting and staggering about, and, when requested to go home, he threatened to run a fork into the constable. Fined £1 and costs, or one month. Committed.”
5th December 1874 – BM
“Aspley Guise. Fire. Late on Tuesday night, a fire took place on the farm of Mr. Douglas, of this place. A haystack and other property was totally destroyed. The act is supposed to be that of an incendiary. The property is valued at £120, but Mr. Douglas is insured.”
No sign of Hirdle in the above, but three days later, he was very much in the frame for the crime:
8th December 1874 – LBO
“Aspley Guise – The Late Fire. On Friday last the prisoner, Alfred Hurdle, who had been remanded from the 27th ult. on a charge of setting fire to a hay-rick, the property of Mr. S. Douglas, farmer, of Aspley, on the morning of Wednesday, the 25th ult. was again brought up, at the Town Hall, Woburn (before C. S. Parker and C. P Stuart, Esqs.), for further examinations. The evidence of the prosecution, given by several witnesses, was to the effect that the prisoner was, at different times during the previous evening, and shortly before the fire broke out, seen near the spot, and that he was the first person met with after the outbreak, and that he swore and otherwise misconducted himself when requested to open a gate leading to the rick-yard, and kicked over a pail of water to prevent it being thrown upon the flames. In defence, Hurdle called his father to support his statement that he was at home at half-past ten o’clock on the night of the fire, but the old man stated that his son did not come home until half-past one in the morning, after the fire had taken place. The magistrate committed the prisoner for trial at the assizes, on the charge of wilfully setting fire to the rick.”
9th January 1875 – LT
“Left for the Assizes – Alfred Hirdle, 23, labourer, for maliciously and feloniously setting fire to a certain stack of hay, the property of Somers Douglas, at Apsley [sic] Guise, on the 24th day of November, 1874.”
20th March 1875 – BM
“Aspley Guise Arson. Alfred Hirdle, 23, labourer, was indicted for maliciously setting fire to a stack of hay the property of Mr Somers Douglas, at Aspley Guise, on the 24th of November.
Mr Lathorne Brown prosecuted, and Mr Cockerell defended the prisoner.
Mr Usher, architect and surveyor, Bedford was first called and proved the accuracy of the plan representing the locality.
Mr Somers Douglas, farmer at Aspley Guise, said on the night of the 24th of November I had a stack of hay burnt down in my stack yard. There is a road behind the yard crossing out into the high road. I was not at the fire. The prisoner worked for me several times, but I have never had any quarrel with him. There may be some ill-feeling between us in consequence of some action which I took at the Woburn Board of Guardians by which the parochial relief of the prisoner’s parents was stopped. Prisoner exhibited this feeling towards me in several ways.
James Turney said: I live at Aspley Guise, on the road between the prisoner’s house and Mrs Button’s house. I know the prisoner. I saw him on the night of the 24th November, loitering near my gateway from eleven till a quarter past. About half an hour after, I heard the alarm of fire. My house is about 200 yards from the stack.
Mary Button said: I live close to Mr Douglas’ stack yard gates. I know the prisoner. I saw him on the night of the 24th November, about a quarter after eleven standing near my house. I heard the alarm of fire about a quarter of an hour after.
By Mr Cockerell: I think he was the worse for drink.
Joseph Perry said: I live near the road at Aspley Guise, about 40 yards from the gates of the stack yard. On the night of the 24th November, about half-past eleven, I saw a fire in Mr Douglas’ farm. I went and found that a haystack, standing out of the yard, was on fire.
William Yardley said: I live a short distance from Mr Douglas’ farm. On the night of the 24th of November I saw a fire in the direction of Mr Douglas’ stack yard. I dressed myself, and ran downstairs and called a number of people. I did not see anyone in the road. When I returned to Mr Doulas’ gate I found prisoner Alfred Hurdle standing with his back against the gate. He appeared very drunk. I told him there was a fire, and asked him to open the gate. He said “_____ the fire and the gate too I shall have nothing to do with it.” I pushed him away, opened the gates and went to the pump. Prisoner afterwards came and pretended to help, but he only threw the water over.
By Mr Cockerell: He was drunk and used the strong language I have mentioned.
Supt. Shepherd said: I apprehended the prisoner at Ridgmount on the 35th November. I charged him with setting fire to Mr Douglas’ hay rick the night previously. He said “I was at home on the sofa having some broth until I heard them call fire; I have a good mind to have snouted old Yardley when I got to the fire.” The prisoner was the worse for drink. The next day the prisoner said “I don’t know what I am here for; but whatever it is I am innocent. I was at home and in bed directly after ten o’clock and did not get up until I heard the call of fire” The day after he was remanded he said “I am innocent of this job; when I got to the fire there were several people there, so that I was not the first.”
Police-constable Lunnis deposed that he searched the prisoner when brought to the police station on the 25th and found loose in his pocket a pipe and several matches.
By Mr Cockerell: I frequently find matches and short pipes on prisoners.
Mr Cockerel, for the defence, said there was nothing more than a suspicion against the prisoner. The fact of his being near the spot was not singular in that he lived there, and then as to the statement that he obstructed those who attempted to put out the fire and used bad language, it was accounted for by the fact that he was very drunk. There was no real evidence against the prisoner, and it had not been proved that he was not at home at the time the fire broke out, as he had stated. What the jury were asked to say was that in consequence of something prosecutor had done he had harboured malice against him for three long years, and now had set fire to his stack. Mr Douglas had had stacks in his field before now, and the prisoner, if he had intended to injure Mr Douglas, would have had ample opportunity before now of doing so.
His Lordship reviewed the evidence, pointing out that a reasonable doubt, and not any feeling of sympathy with the prisoner, must exist to enable them to return a verdict of not guilty.
The jury, after a few minutes consideration, acquitted the prisoner.”
4th May 1875 – LBO
“Petty Sessions – Drunkenness – Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley Guise labourer, was charged with being drunk, in the highway, at Ridgmount, on the 18th of April. Police-constable Pickering proved the case. Fined 5s. and costs 7s.”
15th May 1875 – BM
“Alfred Hirdle, Aspley Guise, labourer, was summoned by Police-constable Warton for drunkenness on the previous evening. Defendant pleaded guilty, and the magistrates inflicted a fine of 6s. and costs, or a week’s imprisonment.”
27th July 1875 – LBO
“Petty Sessions. Drunkenness. Alfred Hurdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, was charged with being drunk in the highway at Woburn on the 9th of July. Defendant did not appear, a warrant for his apprehension was therefore issued and the case was adjourned.”
14th August 1875 – BM
“Petty Sessions – Drunkenness – Alfred Hirdle, labour, of Aspley Guise, against whom two summons had been issued, the first for being drunk on the highway at Woburn, on 8th July, and the second for being drunk and insulting Police-constable Pickering, at Woburn, on the 22nd July, was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.”
The Gaol Register states this was his 10th conviction, aged just 24, but there were several others they had not included.
14th December 1875 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, was charged by Police-constable Whinnett with having been drunk, at Aspley, on the 4th of December. It appears that the defendant has on more than one occasion been charged with like offences, and the magistrates were not inclined to deal with him leniently as heretofore. He was ordered to pay a fine of 40s. and 19s. 6d. costs, or, in default, to be committed to two month’ hard labour. Defendant not appearing, a warrant was issued for his apprehension.”
24th June 1876 – BM
“Petty Sessions – Drunkenness – Alfred Hirdle, labourer of Aspley Guise, who had been apprehended on a warrant, having failed to appear to summons at the last sessions, was charged with having been drunk at Husborne Crawley, on the 24th May. Fined £1 and 13s. costs, or to be imprisoned with hard labour for one month. In default of payment he was committed.”
2nd September 1876 – BM
“Petty Sessions. Alfred Hirdle labourer, of Aspley Guise, had been summoned for drunkenness at Husborne Crawley, on the 6th August. As he did not appear, a warrant was issued for his apprehension.”
20th January 1877 – BM
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, Aspley Guise, was fined £2 and 8s. 6d. costs, or two months’ hard labour, for being drunk and disorderly at Husborne Crawley, on Dec. 23.”
Not content with the local villages, Hirdle was also drinking to excess at Bedford. Or had he just been let out of prison?
24th April 1877 – LBO
“Magisterial – Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley Guise, Beds., was on Monday, April 16th brought before Mr. Harry Thornton and Mr. F. J. Thynne, at Mr. Pearse’s office, Bedford, charged by Police-constable Glenister with having been drunk at Wootton, on Sunday, the 15th inst., and committed for two months’ hard labour; having been thirteen times previously convicted of drunkenness, beside other offences.”
11th September 1877 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, an old offender, was summoned for having been drunk and disorderly, at Aspley Guise, on the 11th of August. He was sentenced to pay a fine of £2 and 8s. and 8s. 6d. costs, or to be imprisoned, with hard labour, for two months.”
19th March 1878 – LBO
“Petty Sessions – Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, charged with having been disorderly on the premises of the White Horse Inn, at Husborne Crawley, and refused to quit the place when requested, was fined £2 and 9s. 6d. costs; in default of payment, two months’ hard labour. Defendant had been many times previously convicted for similar offences.”
13th July 1878 – NM
“Woburn. Petty Session, June 5th. Before Lord Charles Russell and C. S. Parker, Esq., Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, an old offender, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly and refusing to quit the White Horse Inn, Husborne Crawley, on June 27th; he was further charged with having maliciously broken a fence, the property of Mr John Morris, on the same date. For the first offence a fine of £5, with 16s costs, was imposed, or, in default, three months’ hard labour. In the second case, Hirdle was fined 18s with 3s damage and 7s 6d costs, with the alternative of a further term of hard labour for one month.”
The Gaol Register records the above as his 20th conviction, now aged 26.
10th December 1878 – LBO
“Another Charge. Alfred Hirdle, of [Husborne] Crawley, a man who has been frequently punished for drunkenness, refusing to quit, and disorderly conduct, was charged by Police-constable Pickering, or Ridgmount, with being drunk on the 23rd November. He did not appear. The officer said he saw the defendant at Ridgmount, on the day named, and he begged him to go home. He said he should go when he was ready. He was coarsely shouting and swearing. He saw him go to the Red Lion and to the Rose and Crown, and ask for beer, which was refused him. His language was most foul. He had only been three weeks out of goal. The Bench were surprised how defendant obtained the money to get drunk, and convicted him in 10s. penalty and 8s. 6d. costs, or fourteen days. Commitment to issue.”
He also visited Luton, which ended in a violent assault on a police officer.
13th December 1878 – LT
“Luton Borough Petty Sessions. Drunk and Disorderly. Alfred Hurdle, from Aspley Guise, with being drunk and disorderly in Manchester-street at midnight on the 7th instant. Fined with costs 10s, or 14 days. The same defendant was further charged with assaulting Police-constable Frederick Robinson, who deposed the Hurdle struck him in the chest and knocked him down, and whilst on the ground kicked him several times on the head and throat which caused blood to flow freely. Sentenced to two month’ hard labour.”
Hirdle’s mother, Eliza passed away aged 62 on 30th December 1878. Somewhere between the drinking, court cases and prison, he had managed to find a woman to share his life, as on the 26th July 1879, Alfred Hirdle married Sarah Pilgrim, at Ridgmont. After a few months, he was back in court, almost a whole year since the last report.
6th December 1879 – BM
An Incorrigible Rascal. Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley Guise, who has been some score times or more in the hands of the police, was brought up and charged by P.c. Pickering, of Ridgmount, for being drunk in that village on Nov. 22. He pleaded guilty, and offered no defence. He was also charged, on the testimony of P.c. Whinnett, of Aspley, for being drunk, disorderly and refusing to quit the Bell Tavern, on Nov. 27. Whinnett deposed that he was sent for by the landlord to remove the defendant and that with great trouble he succeeded in doing so. In the first case he was fined 10s. and 7s. 6d. costs, and in the other £3 and 7s. 6d. costs, or in default 14 days’ and six weeks’ hard labour.”
It is therefore probable that Hirdle was in prison when his son was born, on 26th January 1880. His son was given the name Alfred too. [I will refer to him as Alfred Hirdle junr.]
7th August 1880 – NM
“Petty Sessions. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, Aspley Guise, charged with having been drunk and disorderly and refusing to leave the Red Lion Inn, Ridgmount, on the 22nd of July, was fined 10s. and 11s. 6d. costs.”
2nd October 1880 – NM
“Petty Sessions, Sept. 24. Before Sir R. T. Gilpin, Bart., C. S. Parker and C. P. Stuart, Esqs., Alfred Hirdle, labourer, Aspley Guise, was charged with having been drunk on the licence premises of the Steamer Inn, at Aspley, and refusing to leave. Defendant, who did not appear, was fined £5, and 11s. costs or two month’s hard labour.”
From here, his home parish is usually given as Ridgmont, so Hirdle must have moved, with his family, from Aspley Guise.
15th February 1881 – LBO
“Petty Session. Drunkenness. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, was charged with being drunk on the highway at Toddington, on February 3rd. The case was proved by Police-sergeant Quenby, and the defendant was fined 10s. and costs of 8s. 6d., or fourteen days hard labour. The chairman remarked that during the past twenty years the defendant had been convicted quite forty times.”
This seems at odds with the Gaol Register view, which recorded this offence as his 31st. 1881 saw another census taken. On 3rd April, Hirdle was at home, now in Ridgmont, on Station Road. His wife Sarah was there too, and their new infant son, Alfred, who was one year old. Alfred snr. described himself as a labourer and Sarah was a straw platter. Interestingly, some other Hirdle’s were living at a local pub, the Swan Inn in Aspley Guise, in East Street. William, 73, a retired carpenter, and Harriett Hirdle, 75, were his uncle and aunt. So I expect Alfred was a frequent visitor (if he wasn’t barred!).
26th April 1881 – LBO
“Petty Sessions. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, was fined 10s and 8s 6d costs, for having been drunk on the highway on the 9th of April. A charge of threatening his wife on the previous day was withdrawn.”
This is the first reference to Hirdle threatening Sarah, but sadly, it would not be the last.
25th October 1881 – LBO
“Petty Sessions. Drunk Again. Alfred Hirdle was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Aspley Guise, on the 8th October. He was also charged with assaulting Police-constable Whinnett at the same time and place. Police-constable Whinnett deposed that he was called to the Anchor Inn, where he found the prisoner, drunk. He requested him to leave, but he took no notice. He then removed him from the house, when he commenced to swear and threatened to strike witness, which he did several times on the shoulder and through his violent behaviour witness was obliged to get a conveyance and take him to Woburn. On the way be behaved like a madman. Defendant said he could not remember anything about it. This man, being an old offender, was fined, for the first offence, 5s. and costs of 14s. 6d. or fourteen days hard labour, and for assaulting the policeman the sentenced to two months’ hard labour.”
The threats made against his wife eventually turned into actual violence, which led to his longest period in prison yet.
6th June 1882 – LBO
“Petty Sessions, Friday last. Before C. S. Parker, C. P. Stuart and E. E. Dymond Esqrs. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, was brought up in custody, on a charge of having assaulted and beaten his wife, Sarah Hirdle, on the 19th of May. He was committed to hard labour for six months, in default of finding sureties to keep the peace.”
The sentence was served, yet no sooner was he out than he attacked her again. Using a weapon this time, the magistrates decided it was so serious that a higher court should try the case.
30th January 1883 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, a fellow who has been many times convicted of different offences at this court, was brought up on a warrant, charged with having assaulted and beaten his wife, Sarah Hirdle, with a stick, and with intent to do grievous bodily harm, at Ridgmount, on the 14th of January. He was committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions. There was a further charge against the prisoner of having threatened to murder his wife on the 1st of January, but this was not proceeded with.”
10th April 1883 – LBO
“Wounding a Wife. Alfred Hirdle (31), labourer, was charged with wounding his wife, Sarah Hirdle, at Ridgmount, on Jan. 14th. Mr. Bonsey prosecuted. The prisoner, who is a well-known character, beat his wife violently with a stick, and caused serious injuries. He was found guilty, and sentenced to five years penal servitude.”
This far more serious crime could not be dealt with at Woburn Petty Sessions. It meant Hirdle appeared at the Quarter Sessions at Bedford, the records of which are now held at the Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service. Records of the trial can be found in QSR1883/2/5/1, from 3rd April 1883. Hirdle had pleaded Not Guilty, but these are the testimonies of the witnesses called:
Sarah Hirdle, labourer’s wife of Ridgmont, wife of the accused: On 12th January she applied to the Woburn bench and obtained a warrant for the apprehension of her husband for threatening her life. The prisoner said he would have his revenge. He left home on 11th January and returned on 14th January between 1am and 2am. She was in bed and heard him slam a window which broke. He came upstairs and was swearing, saying he would have a rope round her neck and would kill her. He came to the bedside and stuck her about the head with a stick. He struck her several times with the stick and once in the eye with his fist. She was cut about the head. He went downstairs and left. There was a woman by the name of Susan Cook staying downstairs in the house. The doctor was sent for and had attended her since.
Susan Cook, singlewoman of Ridgmont: on 13th January she was lodging in a downstairs room of the prisoner’s house. During the night he woke her by slamming the window. He jumped inside and she heard him say “I’ll kill her tonight”. She ran out of the house to fetch Mrs Hirdle’s father. When she returned the prisoner had gone and Mrs Hirdle was in bed with blood running down her face. She went for the policeman.
George Armesley Derville Marlow, a surgeon in practice in Aspley Guise: On 14th January he was summoned to Mrs Hirdle and found her at her mother’s house. She had a wound on her head about an inch long. Her eye was blackened and had bruises on her arms and hands. There was an abrasion on her right ear. The wounds were not dangerous.
Statement of the accused: Nothing to say.
The verdict from the jury was Guilty of Malicious Wounding and the sentence given was of five years penal servitude.
With all this hanging over the family, they still had another baby, Emma Eliza, who was born on 16th August 1883. Hirdle would not see her for nearly five years.
His prison record is available at the National Archives under ref. PCOM3/763. Prisoner J289, as he was known, had a comprehensive file kept about him, with even a newspaper clipping about his trial glued in. As well as listing some of his previous court appearances, it states the total of Drunkenness convictions was now 28. It lists his conduct and health as Good. His complexion was ‘Dark’, with dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and a ‘large’ oval face. He was 5 foot 2 inches tall, and of ‘proper’ build. He had a couple of scars on his face, and a tumour on his ear. There were vaccination marks on his arms, as well as ‘discoloured skin hip and buttocks, small scars on pits sho. blade.’
A health questionnaire recorded he had had Typhus fever 14 years before, but was in generally good health. His weight actually increased during his prison time, from 119lbs. to 125. There are two incidences of visits to the prison infirmary, both in 1886, firstly for Febricula (a mild fever of short duration, and of indefinite origin) and then for the tumour on his ear, recorded as ‘Cystic’. There are four pages of Good Conduct Marks. A total of 56 marks a week were possible, and Hirdle achieved this on all but one week, when he lost 30 marks. There is no indication of what the penalties or rewards for these marks were.
After a week in Bedford prison, he was transferred to H.M.P. Pentonville, in Islington, London. The statement of his property says he had Nil property, Nil Gratuita, and Nil Private Cash. There he stayed for nine months, before being moved again to Portsmouth. While at Pentonville, he worked as a tailor, but worked as a labourer at Portsmouth.
The authorities also recorded all his letters, sent or received, so we know he only ever wrote to his sister and brother-in-law, Clara and William Cox. They wrote back just as frequently, but Sarah Hirdle only wrote to him once, on 31st August 1885. Written across the entry in the Post Register is “Declined”, so it looks as if Hirdle refused to accept it. The prisons took a keen interest in who was writing to who, and the Governor made enquiries as to the character of the Coxes, to be told by the Bedford Constabulary Police Station that they were of ‘Good Character’. After the letter from Sarah Hirdle, they also enquired about her, and were told she lived next door to her mother and had to work very hard in straw platting to keep herself and their two children. His sister and a friend visited him at Pentonville in December 1883, and his brother went to see him twice in April and May 1886 at Portsmouth.
Most interesting of all, he had his photograph taken, on 16th May 1885 (if the date is correct on the picture). His hair is close-cropped, but this was probably done to all convicts on arrival. He holds his hands up in front of him, so that any obvious deformities or tattoos would be captured. His number is already sewn onto his jacket. ‘Mugshot’ images had started to be used by the authorities in order to help identify those using multiple aliases to escape harsher sentences as repeat offenders,
There is also his prison Offence record, and as you may imagine with Hirdle, there are a few occasions noted. Very early into his sentence, he was reprimanded for “Idleness as a tailor and having a dirty and untidy cell”. This resulted in “Close confinement and a Punishment Diet” as well as taking away his mattress. In February 1884, “Talking in his cell after dinner”; June 1884, “Disobedience of orders, by pulling out the truck ??? before the order was given” and also “Having a hole in the brickwork of his cell and 2 pieces of lead in his cell”; September 1884, “Fighting on the Works”; December 1884, “Having his cell attended for an improper purpose”; August 1885, “Insolence and arguing with the Officers” and finally in May 1886, “Fighting in self-defence”. Most of these say he was “Admonished” but for having the two pieces of lead in his cell, they gave him “the benefit of doubt”! Did they think he was trying to escape?
There are two pages of his Petitions to the Secretary of State and Applications by the Prisoner. He could apply for permission to do certain things, but the handwriting is so scribbled, I cannot make these out.
The records of the Poor Law Union of Woburn are stored at Bedfordshire Archives. The volumes of minutes for this time (PUWM11 & 12) show when the Hirdle family applied for financial assistance, as “outdoor relief”, assistance without entering the poorhouse. They did so in June 1882, August 1883, August 1884, December 1887, January, February and November 1888, November 1889, January 1890 and December 1891. Although the funds are supplied to the “able bodied male poor on account of sickness”, however, Hirdle was in prison from April 1883 to early 1887, so payments during that time must have been granted to the family.
Three years and 11 months into his five-year sentence, Hirdle was released ‘near Millbank” on 18th March 1887, with a ‘ticket-of-leave’, a document of parole issued to convicts who had shown they could now be trusted with some freedoms. A copy of the document is with his prison records. It stated that if he “be convicted of some indictable Offence within the United Kingdom… such Licence will be immediately forfeited by Law” and he would have to serve the remaining one year and one month of his original sentence. However, Hirdle soon showed he could not be trusted, even if freshly out of prison on licence.
10th September 1887 – NM
“Wellingborough. Alfred Hirdle, a ticket of leave man, was charged with being drunk in the town on Tuesday night, and was fined 5s. and costs, or fourteen days’ hard labour.”
Was he there for work, or was he wandering the countryside now? Nevertheless, the family had another daughter, Elizabeth, born in the first three months of 1888. Perhaps Hirdle went out celebrating…
10th April 1888 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway, at Aspley Guise, on March 15th. He was further charged that, being at large on a ticket of leave, he had not reported himself as required. On this latter charge he had surrendered in London. Sentenced to one month’s hard labour for the first offence, and two months’ for the second.“
4th December 1888 – LBO
“Drunk on the Highway. Alfred Hirdle, a well-known character in this district, was charged with having been drunk on the highway, at Ridgmount, on Nov. 4th. Defendant, who did not appear, was fined 10s. with 8s. 6d. costs; in default, fourteen days’ hard labour.”
19th February 1889 – LBO
“Petty Sessions. On Friday last, at the Woburn Petty Sessions, Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, a man who has been many times convicted of different offences, was charged with maliciously breaking a window, the property of Edward Two, at Ridgmount, on the 18th of February, the amount of damage occasioned being put at ten shillings. Defendant, it appears, went to the house (occupied by a relative) after his wife, and being refused admittance, for very good reasons, he deliberately set to work and smashed the window – glass and framework. He was committed to twenty-one days’ hard labour, in default of paying 10s fine 11s 6d costs, and 10s damage.”
16th April 1889 – LBO
“An Old Offender. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, bricklayer, who did not appear, was charged with having been drunk on the highway at Aspley Heath, on April 1st. Police-constable Hewitt, of Woburn Sands, said that on the day named, at half-past seven in the evening, he was on duty at the Market Square, Woburn Sands, when he saw the defendant very drunk indeed, and making a great noise. Witness requested him to go home quietly, when defendant replied that “he should go when he liked – he didn’t care for the police.” Witness told him he must take him to the Woburn police-station if he continued to make that noise. He then went away. He was very drunk and noisy. Defendant had been many times convicted of different offences, and the chairman said he remembered sentencing him so long as thirty years ago. Sentenced to one calendar month’s imprisonment, with hard labour.”
Again, somewhat of an exaggeration by the Chair of the magistrates, as it was 21 years since his first offence.
24th August 1889 – NM
“A Humorous Drunkard. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmont, was brought up for being drunk near the Town Hall, Woburn, at 11.30, on the night of the Woburn Flower Show, August 5th. P.C. Hewitt proved the charge. Asked how old he was, defendant informed the Bench he was “no old man.” He was 38, had been to prison, if he went now 37 times, and if he lived to come out and go in again, he would have been as many times as he was years old. “What do you think of that all the way you go? He was far from an old man, and the gentlemen should see what a difference in him a clean shave would make.” On being removed he remarked that a month would be an easy task.”
Criminals were certainly not supposed to inform the Court that the sentence just pronounced would be “easy”! Prison, with or without hard labour, was supposed to be a deterrent. This must have infuriated the Bench. Once released, it seems his wife had finally had enough of his behaviour, and he was sleeping rough.
17th December 1889 – LBO
“Sleeping Out. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount – a man who has over and over again convicted of different offences at this court, was brought up on a charge of sleeping on the out-premises of John Millard, farmer, of Aspley Guise, being without visible means of subsistence, on the 11th of December. Defendant pleaded guilty. Sentenced to one days’ imprisonment, but at once discharged.”
Giving a homeless man a cell and meals at the expense of the county would have been seen as a waste of resources, so he was released again, presumably to be homeless, and thus be offending again! But it looks like his family were at least trying to ensure he ate, although he chose not to accept their hospitality…
7th January 1890 – LBO
“Another Wife-Beater. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount (a man who has been some thirty times convicted at this Bench of different offences, and who has suffered five years’ penal servitude for ill-treating his wife), was brought up in custody, charged with having again assaulted his wife, Sarah Hirdle, on the 31st of December.
Complainant stated that the prisoner came home between nine and ten o’clock at night and was asked by her mother if he would take some soup. He said he didn’t want it, and on being told by the complainant “not to be awkward,” as she knew he wanted it, he swore at her, got up from his seat, struck her several times on the head, and kicked her about the legs. She ran out of the house, and the prisoner followed her carrying a hatchet, but she reached her brother’s house and obtained protection for the night. He did not appear to have been under the influence of drink at the time. In reply to a question, complainant said she wished for a separation order.
Prisoner: We’ve been separated two years, so that will be nothing afresh.
The Magistrates committed Hirdle to two months’ hard labour, but nothing more was said as to the separation order.”
Drunkenness. Alfred Hirdle, the prisoner figuring in the above case, was next charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway at Aspley Guise, on the 21st of December.
Prisoner pleaded guilty.
Sentenced to fourteen days’ hard labour, the term to run concurrently with the two months in the above case.
More Drink, Alfred Hirdle’s “Enjoyment.”
Alfred Hirdle and William Hartwell, labourers, or Ridgmount, were next charged together with having been drunk and disorderly, at Aspley Guise, on the 26th December.
Both men denied the charge.
Police-constable Askew stated that, at twenty minutes past ten at night, he found the defendants, drunk, swearing, and shouting, in front of the Bell Inn. He requested them several times to be quiet and go home. Hartwell replied, with oaths, “We have as much right here as you have; I sharnt go home.” Witness took Hirdle some distance along, and the other man followed, swearing, and trying to persuade Hirdle not to go.
Hartwell: I did not; you first pushed Hirdle down, and that started the row.
Askew went on to add that Mr. Sinfield and others who were near at hand persuaded the defendants to go away, but they returned and swore at the top of their voices, and continued this disorderly conduct up to close upon eleven o’clock. Witness had been complained to in consequence of the disturbance by several people. Hartwell had been the whole cause of the affair.
Hartwell now said he was “very sorry the job had happened.” He had taken a little drink, he knew, but had not been drunk.
Hirdle said he “knew what it was to be drunk,” but, if he never were to speak another word, he had not been drunk that night. “They had all been enjoying themselves,” but not one of them had been drunk.
Fined 5s. and 7s. 6d. costs each, or seven days’ hard labour.
Hartwell paid the money; but Hirdle, who had none, practically got off in this case also with an order that this term should, like the preceding ones, run concurrently with the two months for the assault upon his wife.
Three consecutive court appearances on the same day must have been some kind of record, and one that the Leighton Buzzard Observer could not ignore. In another column, his name appeared again, now crossing over from news into editorial:
“Mr. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, instead of following the Roman custom of marking joyful occasions upon the calendar with a white stone, has his name inscribed upon a police calendar in order to celebrate each passing birthday. During the comparatively short space of thirty years Mr. Hirdle has been convicted about thirty times; and thus his age may be known by the number of times he has been enclosed within the dock, as the rings upon the bark denote the age of forest trees. Mr. Hirdle is now for the thirtieth time or more paying the penalty of his indiscretions, which on this occasion took the form of kicking and pommelling his wife, and threatening her with a hatchet. The primary cause of irritation appears to have been the inquiry of his mother-in-law whether “he would like some soup.” It is possible that as ingenious counsel might have based as able defence upon the well-known irritating effect of mother-in-laws in general upon the nervous system. It is doubtful whether recourse to the hatchet could be argued as justifiable under the circumstances; but, still, any British jury composed of married men would condone as far as possible an offence that could in any way be traced to such an irritating influence. It a further charge of drunkenness, Mr. Hirdle remarked, with a strict regard for truth, “that he knew what it was to be drunk;” no one would doubt this statement; but the assertion that he had not reached this high state of “enjoyment” may be regarded with more than suspicion.”
15th April 1890 – LBO
“William Munn and Alfred Hirdle, labourers, of Aspley Guise, were charged with being drunk and disorderly on licenced premises held by Benjamin Garrett, Woburn Sands, on the 6th of April. Police-constable Hewitt gave evidence in support of the charge, and other witnesses were called on either side, but generally the testimony concerning “a little row” at the Fir Tree was so conflicting that the magistrates dismissed the case.”
13th May 1890 – LBO
Woburn. A Drunken Session. On Friday last , at the Woburn petty sessions (before C. P. Stuart, E. E. Dymond, and T. Harris Esqrs.), Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway, at that place, on the 4th May. He was committed to prison for seven days, in default of paying 5s. fine and 12s. 4d. costs. Alfred Hurdle, the above-named defendant, and William Munn, also a labourer, of Ridgmount, were charged together with having been found drunk on the licenced premises of the Fir Tree, at Aspley Guise, on the 6th of April. Fines were imposed of 10s. and 5s. respectively, with £1 4s. 6d. costs. Munn paid the money, but Hirdle was committed to hard labour for a further term of fourteen days. Benjamin Garratt, of the Fir Tree Inn, Aspley Guise, was then charged with having permitted the drunkenness of the two above-named defendants in his house on April 6th. Mr. Mitchell, solicitor, of Bedford, defended, and, as the justices were not satisfied with the evidence, the case was dismissed.
The North Bucks Post of 16th May gave further details. William Smith, whom Munn had threatened with a stick, was giving evidence that Hirdle and Munn had been threatening and asked to leave by the landlady, when Hirdle interrupted: “You were as gay and fresh corned as any of us!”
Ralph Collins, Andrew Smith and Thomas Cox (who may have been Hirdle’s brother-in-law) gave similar accounts of how P.c. Hewitt had been called, and asked by the landlord to remove the men from the inn. Hirdle was very disgruntled at having these charges from April resurrected, and said that it was the first time he had ‘got off’, and now told the court:
“.. and I have not got off now. I call it scandalous to be dismissed and then brought up again, it is humbugging a man, the charge made against a man should be the first and last. I am shoved about, brought up here, the clever policeman spins a yarn, gets one or two others to spin a yarn, and you do what you like to me.”
Although William Farmer spoke in their defence, the pair were both found guilty. Hirdle elected to serve his time, but Munn’s friends paid his fine, so he avoided prison. “The Chairman, addressing Hirdle as incorrigible, entreated Munn to avoid him like the plague, to have no intercourse with him, or he would be ruined, body and soul.”
30th August 1890 BM
“Drunkenness. Alfred Hirdle, Ridgmount, was charged with being drunk and disorderly on the highway on Aug. 18. The case was proved by P.c. Kernick, and defendant was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment.”
2nd September 1890 – LBO
“Ridgmount. New Pastures. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, labourer, who is a frequent visitant at the Woburn police court was charged on Thursday at the Ampthill Petty Sessions, with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Hirdle did not find however, that the change of police courts was beneficial from his point of view, as the magistrates sentenced him to seven days’ hard labour. Hirdle promised to “be a teetotaller.” ”
That was the only time I have seen Hirdle making any kind of admission that he drank too much and allude to the prospect that he might stop. Of course, he did not!
At the census 5th April 1891, Sarah Hirdle was living with her mother, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Pilgrim, in Ridgmont, along with Alfred jnr., now aged 11, and daughters Emma, aged 7 and Elizabeth, aged 3. Also in the house was another grandson of Kitty, named William Pilgrim, who was 14. Sarah had to work as a lacemaker and charwoman to make ends meet, while Alfred snr. was nowhere to be seen. If he was sleeping rough in this period, he would not have been captured by the census.
26th May 1891 – LBO
“Woburn. Petty Sessions. Before C. P. Stuart and E. E. Dymond, Esqrs. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway, at Aspley Guise, on the 9th of May, was fined 5s. and 8s. 6d. costs, or, in default of payment, fourteen days hard labour.“
How much were these fines Hirdle was paying in real terms? In 1892, the government commissioned a report into the life of agricultural workers in Bedfordshire. This stated that the average weekly wages for labourers in 1868 had been 11s. a week, in 1881 it had risen to 12 – 13s., but had then (1892) dipped again to 11s, a week. A boy aged 15 could get 5s. 6. a week, but horse-keepers or cattlemen received 14 – 15s.. Overtime at Harvest was sometimes paid in beer! A labourer’s cottage averaged 1s. to 1s. 6d. a week. A lb. of tea was 6d, as was 2lbs. of sugar. ½ butter was 7d. and ¼ cheese 2d. So a 5s. fine was half a week’s wages, or enough for rent for about a month.
For his next press story, Hirdle again succeeded in crossing over from news to editorial:
1st March 1892 – LBO
“Investors are not wanting who do very well with railways, trams, or mining ventures; and even Turkish bonds at one time had their attraction; brewery shares have not the charm they once had; but perhaps the most unsatisfactory kind of investment is another of an alcoholic character, in which Mr. Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, “speculated” with his last twopence, the result being that he found himself once more in the dock before the Woburn Bench. At one time a record used to be put in of Hirdle’s previous convictions, but the calculation has become too difficult, and the enumeration is wisely omitted.”
Despite his long absences from home, another son, Charles, was born in the first three months of 1892.
23rd April 1892 – BM
“Bedford. Police Case. On Saturday afternoon, before Mr Elger, Alfred Hirdle, of Aspley Guise, was charged with being drunk in High-street, on the 16th inst. P.c. King proved the case and the defendant was fined 2s 6d and 4s 6d costs or 7 days. Paid.”
In the same paper of the same date, but under another column:
“Police Cases. On Friday morning before Mr Gray and Mr T. Bull, Alfred Hurdle, a bricklayer’s labourer, was charged with being drunk and using obscene language in St. Paul’s-square on Thursday Morning, and was fined 2s. 6d. on each charge with costs, or 14 days. Time was allowed to pay.”
10th May 1892 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, who had absconded since the service of summons, was charged with having been drunk upon the highway, at Aspley Guise, on the 29th of April. A fine was imposed of 10s. and 8s. 6d. costs, or, in default of payment, fourteen days’ hard labour.”
19th July 1892 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmount, charged with drunkenness and disorderly conduct, at Aspley Guise, on the 19th of June, was fined 5s. and 7s. 6d. costs, or fourteen days’ had labour.”
13th September 1892 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, was charged, once again, with having been drunk and disorderly at that place on the 8th of August. He was fined 5s. and 7s. 10d. costs.”
Was Hirdle moving around for labouring jobs having to go further afield to find employees who didn’t know his history? Or was he a wandering vagrant going from town to town, drinking what money he could obtain? The next case comes from St. Albans, and may possibly not be the same man, but it certainly fits his usual pattern, and there are so few Alfred Hirdle/Hurdles in the records that I am convinced it was him. Interestingly, around this time a William Hirdle was living in a cottage adjoining the Rose and Crown public house on the west of St Albans. He was born in Woburn in 1833, but raised by the Button family, as their grandson. He went to St. Albans when a young man, to work as a carpenter, a trade connected with the Hirdle family of Aspley Guise. Was he a brother to Alfred Hirdle?
15th April 1893 – HA
“St. Albans. Drunkenness. At the Police Station on Thursday morning, Alfred Hurdle, was charged before the Mayor and Mr. H. P. Smith, with being drunk and disorderly in Victoria-street at 11.40 p.m. the previous evening. P.c. Felmingham proved the case and the defendant was fined 10s. including costs. Not being able to pay he was committed to prison for seven days.”
Almost exactly a year passes before the next reported incident. Hirdle was now 43, was he slowing down in his premature old age?
10th April 1894 – LBO
“Petty Sessions, Friday Apr. 6th. Before C. P. Stuart, H. H. A. Hoare, and H. P. Harris Esqrs., and Major Downes. Alfred Hirdle, late of Ridgmount, but now stated to be “of no fixed residence” – a man who has been convicted no less than fifty times of drunkenness, assault, and like offences, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly, at Ridgmount, on the 5th of March. Defendant did not put in an appearance. He was fined 5s. and 7s. 6d. costs, or seven days’ hard labour.”
The next year saw a new address for Hirdle – the workhouse in Woburn. These places were known for their brutality, hard work and strict regimes. If the inmates wanted to be fed and clothed, they had to work for it. But not Hirdle! Perhaps he had decided the work was easier, or the food was better, in prison!
4th January 1895 – LT
“Petty Sessions. Alfred Hirdle was charged by the Workhouse authorities with refusing to do his allotted task, and was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment with hard labour.”
4th June 1895 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, who did not appear, was charged with being drunk and disorderly on the highway at Aspley Guise, on May 9th. Fined 5s. and 8s. 6d. costs, or fourteen days’ hard labour. A warrant was issued for his apprehension.”
30th July 1895 – LBO
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, who had already been many times convicted under similar circumstances, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway at Aspley Heath, on the 14th day of July; he was sentenced to one months’ hard labour.”
The following piece was about Alfred’s son, committing an offence that his father had never been tried for:
22nd October 1895 – LBO
“Trespass in Search of Game. Alfred Hirdle was charged with laying snares for game, on October 12th, in the parish of Ridgmount; and John White was charged with aiding and abetting him.
Mr. Mitchell appeared for the prosecution.
Joseph Cater proved seeing Hirdle go to three snares in Mr. Crouch’s home close, while White remained in the road. When he jumped up, Hirdle ran away, and White also, the latter afterwards joining Hirdle.
The Chairman said one of the defendants had a name unfortunately too well known at that court, although this was a first offence with both these youths, and he hoped it would be a warning to them, and that it would be the last time they would be brought there. They would be fined 5s. each, with 7s. 9d. costs, or in default fourteen days’ hard labour.”
Thus, it appears Alfred Hirdle jnr. was perhaps taking the same route in life as his father, or was he just trying to bring some much-needed food to the table in his mother’s house?
Alfred’s father, John Hirdle, died on 18th December 1895, aged 84, a very long life for that period, but there was no news report about it.
17th August 1897 – LBO
“Free Bath and Laundry. During the hearing of the relief cases it was stated that a man named Alfred Hirdle, whose name is not unknown in connection with certain public institutions in Woburn, came into the House in order to enjoy the advantage of a free bath, and to get his clothes washed.”
The LBO was so astounded that someone could voluntarily ask to be let into a workhouse, they brought his name up in an editorial piece in the same edition:
“At this time, when so much is written and said in Leighton on the baths question, it may be interesting to note what is done by a gentleman in the Woburn District. Mr. Alfred Hirdle does not see the fun of keeping up expensive official establishments without having some compensating personal benefit; so when he needs (or thinks he needs) his periodical ablution he retires to the workhouse and there enjoys a free bath. He has even developed the communistic idea further. “Why,” he asks, “should not the State pay our washer women?” It educates us, provides us with someone to look after us at night if we happen to get a little too much to drink, and follows this up by giving us free board and lodging and free exercise in the form of the treadmill in lieu of payment, therefore, free laundry? Instead of sending to the steam laundry and setting up a long bill Mr. Hirdle retires to the workhouse where he gets everything done that is requisite and is boarded and lodged free, gratis, for nothing while the process goes on. We should like for the benefit of others who may wish to save the heavy charges made by laundresses to have Mr. Hirdle’s report on the manner in which the work is performed. Are the clear starchers up to their work and do the collars and shirt fronts on their return from the wash present that snowy whiteness and metallic evenness and glaze of surface that a gentleman considers indispensable? We take it that it is so or Mr. Hirdle would not continue the practice from mere motives of economy alone.”
The newly-clean Hirdle seems to have kept himself clean in other ways too. There had been no convictions since July 1895, and there are no reports of him at all through the rest of this year, all of 1898, and halfway into 1899. Then he seems to have fallen back into his old ways. Despite the relapse, the Chairman even congratulated him!
16th May 1899 – LBO
“An Old Acquaintance. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Aspley Guise, was charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the highway at that place on the 11th of May. Defendant, who has many times been convicted of similar offences, pleaded guilty. P.c. Hewitt gave evidence that he found defendant very drunk, swearing and making a great disturbance with about a hundred children around him. He could not persuade him to go away, and had therefore to lock him up. Supt. Anniwell, in reply to the Chairman, said Hirdle’s last conviction was in 1895 – he then had a month. The Chairman said the justices were glad to find Hirdle had been “doing better” of late. As the last conviction was so long back, the fine would be but 2s. 6d., with 5s. 3d. costs, or, in default of payment, seven days’ hard labour. Defendant, who had no money, was committed to prison.”
6th June 1899 – LBO
“Alfred to be taken care of. During the hearing of the relief cases it was stated that an order for the House in the case of Alfred Hirdle (who is somewhat well-known in the neighbourhood) had been confirmed.”
So from asking to be let in to use the facilities, it seems he was to now be a permanent inmate of the workhouse. However, it seems he wasn’t there vary long. Either he somehow convinced the authorities he would be no more trouble, (possibly with the help of his family), or due to the fact that the Woburn workhouse was in process of winding up to be closed and sold off, by the autumn, he was free again. It wasn’t long before he was back in front of Woburn Petty Sessions:
5th September 1899 – LBO
“Charge of Drunkenness. Alfred Hirdle Summoned Once More. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, of Ridgmont – a man who has been fifty times convicted of different offences at this court – was charged with having been drunk and disorderly on the public highway at Toddington, on the 13th of August. Defendant pleaded not guilty. Police -constable Knight stated that as eight o’clock at night he was in the High Street, Toddington, and saw defendant stagger towards the Bank Corner, with several children around him. On the way he stood in front of and stopped a respectable woman who said she was afraid of him. Defendant went on to a path near the Brewery, and witness told him to move off; he said he would go when he was ready, and put himself in a fighting attitude, but eventually he went away towards Milton Bryant. Defendant, after shouting that the witness was a liar, said he would not ask him any questions, but, he said, “it was a shame he should be humbugged about like this by a man who had not been in the force longer than twenty-five minutes.” He denied that he had behaved as alleged to the woman referred to, Mrs. Fleckney, and, in reply to a question, said he thought it “would be quite as well” to have the case adjourned for a fortnight, to call Mrs. Fleckney as a witness. He owned that he had taken some drink, but “no more that he could carry respectably.” The case was adjourned for a fortnight.”
19th September 1899 – LBO
“Woburn. Petty Sessions. Friday, Sept. 15th. Alfred thinks it “Scandalous.”
There was but one case entered upon the charge-sheet at this court. The justices present were Mr. H. P. Harris (in the chair) and Dr, Waugh. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, or Ridgmont, appeared to adjourned summons, to meet the allegation that he had been drunk and disorderly on the public highway at Toddington on Sunday Evening, the 13th of August. At the previous session the charge was supported by the evidence of P.c. Knight, but defendant denied the accusation, and asked for an adjournment, which was granted, to enable him to call a witness; he did not appear, however, when the case was called neither did any witness put in an appearance on his behalf. Police-constable Knight repeated his statement that at eight o’clock at night he found defendant staggering along a footpath towards Bank Corner, and that he placed himself before and obstructed a respectable woman, who complained to witness of the defendants conduct. When asked what he meant, he said he wanted to go to Woburn, but went on and stood upon the pathway at Parson’s End, where, by shouting and trying to dance, he caused a number of people to congregate around him. When told to move off the path, he put himself in a fighting attitude and attempted to strike witness, who then removed him and he went off towards Milton Bryant. Hirdle now entered the court, behaved very strangely, and, when the evidence had been read over to him, made an incoherent statement to the effect that if he had been drunk in Toddington at eight o’clock, when the weather was hot, he could not have reached Woburn, as he did, by ten o’clock, and would have had another glass if he could have got it. Mrs. Sarah Ann Fleckney, of Toddington, now called by the police, stated that defendant placed himself in front of her so that she could not pass along the footpath with a child in a perambulator; she was afraid Hirdle would strike the child, so tuned the “pram” round and complained to Police-constable Knight. Witness considered defendant to be drunk by the way in which he staggered about. Defendant to witness: You ought not to come here and swear this if you are not afraid or ashamed of a man. This place is built for people to come here and speak the truth, Witness: I am not afraid of a man if he is drunk. To the Magistrates witness added that defendant muttered something when placed in front of her, but she did not know what he said. Defendant at length admitted he had “had a drop,” but no more than he could carry to Woburn; so there could not, he said, have been much the matter with him. The Magistrates fined defendant 10s. with 9s. 6d. costs, or, in default , fourteen days’ hard labour. Hirdle , who began to conduct himself in an unseemly manner, expressed the opinion that this treatment was “most scandalous,” notwithstanding that he had been convicted over fifty times – it was his name that had brought him there – Having no money wherewith to pay, defendant was taken away in custody.”
The magistrates pointing out that he had now reached an extraordinary 50 convictions, and his behaviour in court, brought about another editorial in the Leighton Buzzard Observer of the same date, and prompted the Beds Mercury to look at the current system of dealing with habitual drunks, and how well it was working (or not…) on men like Hirdle…
19th September 1899 – LBO
Alfred Hirdle, like other eminent men, had a jubilee celebration. But Alfred has his own ideas about what a jubilee should be; he does not follow in the steps of the common herd. When he takes trouble to make a fiftieth record it is about something unique. Few men, for instance, can lay claim to fifty convictions in a police court, although some, possibly, may have deserved them. This is just Alfred’s view of the subject. He says this treatment of him is “most scandalous,” and he adds that it is “his name” that brings him there. The sage asks, “What’s in a name?” but if Alfred’s view is correct he may reply, “A great deal.” Looking at the matter from the point of view of those whom Alfred regards as his persecutors, we may remind him “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” “
22nd September 1899 – BM
“On Friday last, the Woburn magistrates sentenced the notorious Alfred Hirdle, of Ridgmount, to fourteen days’ imprisonment, as he was not able to pay the fine imposed upon him for being drunk and disorderly at Toddington, on a recent Sunday evening. The poor fellow has been in Bedford Prison many a time for a like offence, but it seems no remedy comes from imprisonment. He has been convicted 50 times, and his will is gradually being weakened as he repeats his familiar offences.
Is it any good at all to shut a drunkard up for a week or a fortnight? Why not try a longer period – say three months or six? A famous manufacturer of intoxicants once told me that he would have every drunkard sentenced to indefinite imprisonment – as the kindest method of curing a man of the drink mania.
He did not mean that a drunkard should never have a chance of regaining his freedom; but that he should be quite restored to self-control before his release. The terms of the sentence would be, in that case, that the man be imprisoned until the prison surgeon should certify that the man would not get drunk again! That would put the surgeon in a tight corner; but, perhaps, the form of the sentence might be varied to overcome that.”
I cannot imagine there being much support for this idea, the prisons were already crowded. How could a surgeon certify a man would never drink to excess again? In October 1899, Hirdle’s son, Alfred jnr., married Agnes Clara Waters at Ampthill, (in a bit of a rush, I think, judging by the next news report:
9th February 1900 – BT
“Births. Feb 6, at Ridgmont, the wife of Alfred Hirdle, of a son.”
Alfred jnr. and Agnes went on to have another two children. With the Woburn workhouse now closed, the parish had to send any needy cases to Ampthill, which is where we next find Hirdle:
31st August 1900 – BM
“Refused to break stones. Alfred Hirdle, labourer, Aspley Guise, was charged with refusing to do certain work, viz., to break stones, whilst an inmate of the Ampthill Workhouse, on Aug. 29. Also with wilfully damaging a door in Ampthill Workhouse to the amount of 10s 6d, the property of the Guardians, whist an inmate, on Aug. 29. Defendant pleaded guilty to both charges.”
7th September 1900 – LT
“Aspley Guise. Refusing to Break Stones. At the Ampthill Sessions on Thursday, Alfred Hurdle, labourer, Aspley Guise, was charged with refusing to do certain work, viz., to break stones whilst an inmate of the Ampthill Workhouse, on Aug. 29. Also with wilfully damaging a door in the Ampthill Workhouse to the amount of 10s. 6., the property of the Guardians, whilst an inmate of the Ampthill Workhouse, on Aug. 29th. The defendant pleaded guilty to both charges. The porter said that defendant had refused to break stones or do any work; he consequently locked him in the stone cellar. He returned and found he had broken the door with a sledge hammer. Sentenced to three months’ hard labour.”
…then, in the same paper, of the same date, and even on the same page, but a couple of columns across…
Woburn. “Hurdle Again. Alfred Hurdle, Aspley Guise, was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Aspley Guise on August 17th. He did not appear, being in gaol on another charge. P.c. Askew proved the case, and defendant was committed for 14 day’s hard labour.”
…so it was back to Bedford prison for Alfred Hirdle, but this time, it was to be his last.
30th October 1900 – LBO
“What the “Buzzard” Hears –
That the inhabitants of Woburn and district were startled on Friday with news of the death of Alfred Hirdle, one of the best known characters in the district.
That Alfred had been convicted of drunkenness etc., over fifty times and when his death occurred he was undergoing a sentence in Bedford gaol.
That for many years poor Alfred was always anxious to spend his Christmas in gaol because of the special treat provided for the gaol birds.
That the police-constables have lost their very best customer for when out of gaol he was invariably disorderly in one of the villages near his home.”
The following piece appeared in the London Evening Standard, and then in many provincial newspapers, including the Nottingham Evening Post, the Gloucester Herald, the Cambridge Daily News, the Coventry Evening Telegraph (which added, falsely, that he had spent 21 consecutive Christmas’ in prison), the Lincolnshire Chronicle, the Western Chronicle etc. etc. etc.
30th October 1900 – London Evening Standard
“Alfred Hirdle, labourer, aged about 50, of Aspley Guise, near Woburn, Beds, has died in Bedford Gaol, where he was undergoing a short term of imprisonment. He had been convicted over 50 times, and sent to prison for drunkenness and other offences, and for many years so arranged his course of conduct as to ensure a place in either gaol or the workhouse, in order to get a share of the special fare provided for the occupants of those establishments.”
I cannot see any evidence that Hirdle arranged his Christmas holidays to be inside. This seems to be fabrication.
2nd November 1900 – BM
“Death at the Prison. On Thursday, Oct. 25, a prisoner named Alfred Hirdle, aged 49, formerly a tailor, of Ridgmount, died from apoplexy in H.M. Prison. He has been before magistrates 59 times, and generally managed to spend Christmas Day in prison. An inquest was held on Friday at the Prison by Mr. Whyley, County Coroner, when the evidence was as follows:-
Adolphus George Western, Governor of the Prison, said that deceased was admitted on Aug. 30, from Ampthill, for wilful damage at Ampthill Workhouse, and for being drunk and disorderly. The majority of his convictions were for drunkenness. He had been in prison four times since witness had been in charge of the prison. He died at 12.30a.m. on Oct.25. He was a married man, but had been living apart from his wife for some years. She visited him, in company of his sister, on Oct. 24. Witness informed her of the date and hour of the inquest, so as to give her an opportunity of being present. She expressed a wish to attend if she could; she said she was too poor to pay for a funeral. Witness informed her that the Government would provide a respectable funeral for him. Deceased was taken with a fit at 7a.m. on Sunday, and was unconscious from that time until he died. He was never left day or night after the seizure.
Fredk. George Berrill, a warder, said about 7a.m. on Sunday he went into the cell occupied by the deceased. He was lying on his back on the bed, and was unconscious. Witness remained with him until Dr. Kinsey arrived, about half an hour after. Deceased made no complaint. Witness stayed with him until the temporary nurse came. When he saw deceased last, at 6p.m. on Wednesday, he was in the same state.
Arthur William Lloyd Kinsey, prison surgeon, said when he was called to the cell on Sunday morning deceased was on his bed unconscious and breathing heavily. He had vomited twice, and there was sign of great disturbance of the brain. Day and night burses were obtained for him; he was kept clean and dry. Witness saw him twice a day, and on Wednesday evening thought his end was near. There were no signs of violence. He attributed death to effusion of blood on the brain through rupture of an artery, that is, apoplexy. The body was fairly well nourished. A man who drank as much as he did was apt to get his arteries ruptured prematurely. Deceased could not swallow after his seizure. The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony.
The unfortunate man Hirdle was a lamentable evidence of the degrading effects of alcoholic excess. He was brought up respectably and might have done well, but for his fatally easy habit of drinking. The trouble he brought on himself unfortunately caused much sorrow to his wife and relations, and prolonged efforts were made by them and by Miss Laws to induce him to abstain. Though he occasionally tried hard it was in vain, for his moral will was wholly destroyed by alcohol.”
The Beds Times added to the coroner’s report – “By permission of the Governor, the members of the Jury were afterwards shown around the Institution, and were very much gratified to observe the system of reforming and educating the young men and boys who here find temporary quarters.”
2nd November 1900 – BT
Aspley Guise. The somewhat sudden death in H.M. Prison at Bedford of Alfred Hirdle, a native of this village, came as a great surprise to the inhabitants. A few days previous to his last conviction at Ampthill he was in the village with his wooden whistle, amusing the school children, and appearing in his usual health. Death in this case has ended a very remarkable career. Hirdle was brought up very respectably, and apprenticed to the tailoring, but at an early age was convicted of the theft of some apples, and since that time he has been continually in the hands of the police. It is estimated that half his life has been spent in prison or the Union. For many years he spent Christmas in prison, stating that his object was to get one good meal in the year. Temperance workers tried time after time to reclaim him (his convictions in nearly every case being drunkenness), but though Alfred professed conversion several times, his old habits of drinking overcame him again and again, until his case was considered hopeless.”
This mention of stealing apples does not appear elsewhere in the press, nor is it mentioned in Hirdle’s official record. However, Edward Cooke & Luke Dickins, his co-accused from the attempted train-wrecking in 1870, were convicted of precisely that crime in February 1869.
The census of 31st March, 1901 shows Sarah Hirdle, widow, was still with her mother in Ridgmont. Alfred jnr., now 21, was living in the same village, with his wife Agnes, 23. Their son born in 1900 had been named William. Alfred was described as an “Ordinary Farm Agricultural Labourer”.
Sarah Hirdle eventually passed away on 12th March 1925, at Ridgmont, of arterio sclerosis and cerebral haemorrhage.
Despite his early conviction under the Game Laws when 15, Alfred jnr. chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps. He seems to have learnt his lesson immediately, and became a model citizen, and later a public servant, as his eventual obituary shows:
19th April 1940 – BT
“Parish Council Loses Chairman. The Late Mr. A. Hirdle of Ridgmont. The death occurred on Sunday afternoon of Mr. Alfred Hirdle of Ridgmont. He had for many years led a useful and strenuous life in the public interest. He was chairman of the Parish Council for a long period and farm labourer’ representative on the County Agricultural Wages Committee. He leaves a widow, who is almost blind, one son and two daughters.
Mr. Hirdle recently past his sixtieth birthday, and his death is a severe loss to his native village. In addition to being chairman of the Parish Council for more than twenty years, he was a Trustee of the Wichelsea Charity, hon. secretary of the Men’s Own Sick Club, and a member and supporter of other sick and thrift societies. An old Baptist Sunday School boy, he was closely connected with the chapel cause throughout his life. Right through his married life Mr. Hirdle was a worker for the Liberal and Labour causes, and he was greatly esteemed for his useful services.
The funeral took place yesterday (Thursday) and included a service in his own cottage home, conducted by the Rev. James Stewart.”
So this apple seems to have fallen very, very far from the tree of his father, Alfred Hirdle, the incorrigible rascal of Aspley Guise.
The following list of Alfred Hirdle’s court appearances is an amalgamation of entries on the Gaol Register index [GR] from Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service, and the local newspaper articles [NA] above. Where there is evidence from both, only the Gaol Register information has been used.
Including the times he was convicted of multiple offences on the same day, and those convictions outside the jurisdiction of the Bedfordshire circuit, the total is much higher than even the exaggerating newspapers even imagined.
Source Date Offence Result Sentence
NA 04/07/1868 Drunk Convicted Fined
GR 27/08/1868 Drunk Convicted 21 Days or 21s 6d
GR 27/01/1870 Attempted to derail train Acquitted
NA 13/09/1870 Drunk Convicted 5s & 9s 6d costs
GR 05/11/1870 Want of Sureties Convicted 3 Months
GR 03/04/1871 Want of Sureties Convicted 3 Months
NA 15/08/1871 Drunk Convicted 3 Months
GR 16/11/1871 Want of Sureties Convicted 3 Months
NA 23/07/1872 Drunk Convicted 5s and costs
GR 16/09/1872 Want of Sureties Convicted 6 Months
GR 29/11/1873 Drunk Convicted 1 Month or 34s
GR 05/12/1874 Arson Acquitted
NA 04/05/1875 Drunk Convicted 5s and 7s costs
GR 10/05/1875 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 11s 6d
GR 16/06/1875 Drunk Convicted 1 Month or 40s
NA 27/07/1875 Drunk Did not appear, warrant issued
GR 25/08/1875 Drunk Convicted 1 Month or 43s 6d
GR 25/08/1875 Riotous Convicted 1 Month
GR 28/12/1875 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or 66s 6d
NA 24/06/1976 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
NA 02/09/1876 Drunk Did not appear, warrant issued
GR 23/10/1876 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or 54s 8d
GR 02/02/1877 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or 55s 6d
GR 16/04/1877 Drunk Convicted 2 Months, or 46s 6d
NA 11/09/1877 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or £2 8s and 8s 6d costs
GR 11/10/1877 Drunk & Riotous Convicted 2 Months or 55s 6d
GR 10/12/1877 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 11s 6d
NA 19/03/1878 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or £2 9s 6d
GR 11/04/1878 Disorderly person Convicted 2 Months or 56s 6d
GR 05/07/1878 Drunk Convicted 3 Months or £5 17s 6d
GR 05/07/1878 Wilful Damage Convicted 1 Month or 23s 6d
GR 06/12/1878 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 25s 6d
GR 07/12/1878 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 20s 11d
GR 07/12/1878 Assault of P.C. Convicted 2 Months
GR 16/06/1879 Drunk Convicted 1 Month or 26s 6d
GR 05/12/1879 Drunk Convicted 6 Weeks or £3 14s 6d
GR 05/12/1879 Convicted 14 Days or 20s 6d
GR 02/04/1880 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or £5 19s 6d
GR 30/07/1880 Drunk Convicted 1 Month or 25s 6d
GR 24/09/1880 Drunk Convicted 2 Months or £5 18s
GR 11/02/1881 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 21s 6d
GR 22/04/1881 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 21s 6d
GR 21/10/1881 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 22s 6d
GR 21/10/1881 Assault of P.C. Convicted 2 Months
GR 02/06/1882 Want of Sureties Convicted 6 Months
GR 03/04/1883 Wounding Convicted 5 Years – Removed to Pentonville
NA 10/09/1887 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 5s and costs
GR 06/04/1888 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
GR 06/04/1888 Not reporting Convicted 2 Months
GR 30/11/1888 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 25s 6d
GR 15/02/1889 Wilful damage Convicted 21 Days
GR 12/04/1889 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
GR 16/08/1889 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
NA 17/12/1889 Sleeping Out Convicted 1 Day
NA 07/01/1890 Assault Convicted 2 Months
NA 07/01/1890 Drunk Convicted 14 Days
NA 07/01/1890 Drunk Convicted 7 Days
GR 09/05/1890 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 41s 6d
GR 09/05/1890 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 24s 4d
GR 28/08/1890 Drunk Convicted 7 Days
GR 10/04/1891 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 22s 5d
GR 22/05/1891 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 20s 6d
GR 26/02/1892 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 19s 6d
GR 19/05/1892 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 10s
GR 19/05/1892 Obscene language Convicted 7 Days or 10s
GR 06/05/1892 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 25s 6d
GR 15/07/1892 Drunk Convicted 14 Days
GR 15/08/1892 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 20s 3d
GR 09/09/1892 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 19s 10d
GR 29/10/1892 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
NA 15/04/1893 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 10s – Committed
GR 06/04/1894 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 20s 6d
GR 10/08/1894 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 15s 11d
GR 28/12/1894 Misdemeanour in workhouse Convicted 7 Days
NA 04/01/1895 Refusing to work Convicted 7 Days
GR 25/01/1895 Misdemeanour in workhouse Convicted 21 Days
GR 31/05/1895 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 20s 6d
NA 04/06/1895 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or 5s & 8s 6d costs – Did not appear, warrant issued
GR 26/07/1895 Drunk Convicted 1 Month
GR 30/04/1896 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 9s
GR 30/04/1896 Obscene Language 7 Days or 10s
GR 12/05/1899 Drunk Convicted 7 Days or 11s 9d
GR 14/07/1899 Drunk Convicted 7 Days
GR 15/09/1899 Drunk Convicted 14 Days or £1.6s.6d
NA 31/08/1900 Refusing to work & damage Convicted 3 Months
NA 07/09/1900 Drunk Convicted 14 Days – Did not appear (already in prison)
Total: 82 Convictions and 2 Acquittals.
Page last updated Feb. 2019.