'ONCE YOU WERE MY COMFORT' - ANN'S STORY
by Maureen Storey
This article was originally published in the April 2008 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
As I suspect most people do, when researching my family I have a very cosy image of what they must have been like. It's obvious from the records that my Sole family has always been poor but in my mind's eye they were the classic 'poor but honest' family, working hard to make ends meet. This image took something of a knock when on browsing through the Old Bailey records I found the report of a trial at which my 4×gt grandmother Dinah Sole (nee Woodland) gave evidence (see Soul Search, April 2004). Although she wasn't accused of the crime, Dinah almost certainly helped one of her neighbours steal grain from a local mill – reading between the lines she probably agreed to testify against him in return for not being prosecuted.
Whatever Dinah's sins I continued to believe that her descendants must have lead virtuous lives, after all her youngest son George joined London's first police force and rose to the rank of sergeant (for the moment I'll gloss over the individual who appears on the Society's charts as 'Mad Jack of Hoxton'). Of Dinah's thirteen children, we know what happened to eight and it's reasonable to assume that another two died in infancy since later children were given the same names but three were unaccounted for: Ann (b 1800), Alice (b 1806) and Thomas Simon (b 1807). It was the Old Bailey records that recently revealed the fate of Ann.
The index for oldbaileyonline.org lists everyone mentioned in the court cases, the accused, victims, witnesses, even occasionally jury members, and I was going through the index checking Soles who are listed as mentioned 'in passing' – these are usually witnesses at a trial and frustratingly the trial records contain so few personal details other than the name that it seldom possible to identify the person concerned. Thomas Sole, who in 1819 gave evidence at the trial of John Holmesby for the murder of his wife Ann Holmesby, proved to be an exception. The three clues to Thomas's identity mentioned at the trial were that he was 12 years old, that he lived with his family in Homerton, MDX, and that the victim Ann Holmesby was his sister. This was enough to identify Thomas and Ann as two of Dinah's 'missing' children.
Ann Sole and John Holmesby married at St Leonard Shoreditch on 19 August 1816 when he was about 22 and she was only about 16. In September 1819 the couple were living with William Sole, Ann's father, her brother Tom and a younger sister (Dinah had died in 1816). The family also had a lodger, a widow called Esther Surry. On 28 September 1819 it rained which meant that John Holmesby, who was a bricklayer’s labourer, did not go to work. Although there were minor differences in detail in the testimony given by Thomas Sole, Esther Surry and John Holmesby as to what happened that day, they were in overall agreement as to the sequence of events that happened at the family home. The following is John Holmesby's account, as given in the Old Bailey records:
On the Monday, the day before I saw my wife in the evening, she went out for a pail of water, and had no occasion to be gone above a few minutes, she was gone a long while: when she came back I chastised her for it, knowing she had been guilty of what was stated. She came back and said “I'm going for Rumble's clothes to mangle.” I thought to myself that she was going after some of her men, as she had acquaintance with several. She was gone a long while – I went out to the gate, looked towards the left, but did not see her. I suspected she was gone to the cow-hovel – I went that way and saw Lawrence (whom I afterwards caught in the act of adultery), I did not then know anything was between them. She came running from the cow-hovel; I told her she had been after no good and if I caught her she would not like it. She said I might be d—d, and she would do as she pleased. On Tuesday morning, being wet, I stopped at home till three or four o'clock. I said “My dear, I am going to town to buy a pair of shoes, and you may as well walk with me” - she wanted to pledge some things to get money.
I said, “You may as well walk with me.” She said “Indeed I shall not, I shall ride with one of the coachmen.” (She was very intimate with several of the coachmen, and I believe they did as they liked with her.) She started off about half an hour before me, we did not go out together; I was to meet her by Shoreditch church – instead of meeting her there, I wandered about a long while, and met her coming with a friend from towards Bishopsgate church. I asked her why she deceived me so for? I should have gone back for nothing if I had missed her. She said, “And if you had, you would only have had your walk for nothing.” I said, “Will you go with me and buy shoes?” She said, “No you may go where you like, I shall go home. We went to some shoe-shops – I bought none. I said I must go to a man in Globe-fields, who owed me some money – she went home. I could not get the money, and went straight home. I thought she might have been home full two hours before me, but she did not return until almost dark. I asked where she had been. She would not satisfy me.
I said, “It is pretty goings on, for you to gad about, and not let me know where you go; if I was to do it how uneasy you would be.” She said she did not care, she should do as she liked. We had tea, and had words all the while. She said, as I had not got my shoes I might as well go to Newington. I said there was none there that would suit; she said there were some that would do for me, and my father-in-law said I might get them near the church. When I got there I found no such shop or place. Her being anxious for me to go arose my suspicion. I made all the haste back I could. On my return I opened the gate gently, looked through a crack in the shutter, and thinking she was not at home, I went to the coach-yard, as she was there almost every evening. I then went to the public-house, to see if she was with one Coulson, the hostler, whom I once caught her with at Edmonton. I then thought of the cow dung on her bonnet. I then went to the cow-hovel softly, put my ear to the door, and heard a panting for breath. (Here the prisoner minutely described the situation in which he found his wife and John Lawrence.)
She said, “I hope you can forgive me, John, for who can I live with better than my dear husband?” I used several bad expressions, and said I would forgive her. She said the man forced her there. I said to the man, “Did you or did you not do so?” He said he did.
I said, “I will freely forgive you, my dear, if you will swear a rape against him at Worship-street. The man then escaped about twenty yards across the field – we came up to him again. She said to me, “You may be d---d, I don't care for you. I love his little finger better than your whole body.” The man said it was his fault, and went away. I got her something to drink, and said she should go home immediately, until I had made up my mind about leaving her – it was all in the heat of passion. I got her some gin and peppermint, and told her the man might go, for I knew where to find him to-morrow. I took her to the gate, and certainly used bad language to her, and said I would forgive her if she would live with him or Ben Fricker, or who she liked. She said, “there is Mr Pearson going by, and he well knows what I am.” I told her to go indoors, she swore she would not – I pushed her in and told Surry of the adultery – she said she pitied me. After that she got up and cried, and went into the yard very much enraged.
I said, “Don't make away with yourself, we will part peaceably.” she came in and said, 'Don't think I am going to make away with myself for such a d—d *** as you.” I said, “Don't use that language or you shall feel for it.”
She went to bed and asked if I was coming? I said I did not know that I should, for I might as well have a prostitute. She said if I did not come to bed, she would get up and go to the man she loved. I said I would come to bed if she would appear against the man at Worship-street; she said she would not, for he had treated her well. I went in and out of the room in a great rage; she was exclaiming the bitterest oaths. I went to her, and said I would come to bed if she would not use such language.
She said, “You may be d—d, for I don't care for you.” At last she said “As you have struck me, you shall lay in prison and rot.” I said, “Say that again!”. She said it, the axe laid by, I took it up and struck her once; she said “You ****!” I struck her two or three times. After that was done I put on my clothes, and moved her to the right side of the bed, kissed her, and said “God bless you, my dear; once you were my comfort, I have been the death of you, and you will be the death of me.”
From the doctor's testimony at the trial it would seem that Ann suffered a frenzied attack, with four severe blows to the head (one of which 'perforated quite into the brain') and her jaw was broken in two places. We'll never know whether Ann had behaved as badly to him as Holmesby said or whether he blackened her name in an attempt to justify what he had done – no other evidence of Ann's infidelity was given at the trial – but it is apparent they had had a tempestuous relationship.
John Holmesby was sentenced to death.
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