Seven in a room - remarkable case from Park Street

Hertfordshire Advertiser, 27th January 1917


The two soldiers’ wives from Park Street, who, a fortnight ago were sent to prison by the City Magistrates for immoral behaviour at St Albans, at the expiration of their sentences, were brought before the County Bench on Saturday, in connection with a prosecution instigated by the N.S.P.C.C., charging them with neglecting their children. The story told in evidence was a sad and painful one.

Alderman H Slade was Chairman of the Bench.

The case against Julia Hedges, Church Cottage, Frogmore, was taken first.

Mr A Clarke, representing the Society, said defendant was the wife of a soldier and she formerly received 29 shillings a week separation allowance, but this was reduced to 22 shillings some time ago in consequence of her husband overstaying his leave. Accused had six children, ranging in age from 9 years to seven months.

Before going to Park Street she lived at Lamb Lane, Redbourn and there it was that she first came under the notice of the N.S.P.C.C. The Society’s Inspector visited the house several times and found the children in a very dirty condition. There were also complaints that the mother was frequently leaving the children in the house alone. She had been warned on several occasions without avail.

It appeared that seven or eight weeks ago she removed to the cottage at Park Street where she had resided with Mrs Ford, the other defendant, who also had six children. Evidence would be given of further neglect and ill-usage of those children while they lived at Park Street. There could be no excuse on the part of the women, and he would prove that for some time past she had been going into St Albans about six o’clock in the evening in company with Mrs Ford, the twelve children being left in the cottage until ten or twelve and he thought that in itself was sufficient evidence of neglect. The Society considered the case a serious one. It was evident that the woman had dissipated the money allowed her by the State.

Inspector George Westcott of Watford told of visiting the defendant’s house at Redbourn on September 7th last and of finding the children in a dirty condition and without boots or stockings. The baby was in a filthy condition. The rooms and bedding were also filthy and the latter was foul smelling. He warned accused about the state of the children, particularly the baby. On calling again on September 25th he found the conditions no better. All the children were verminous and the boys clad only in shirt a jacket. He went and saw Mrs Ford who then lived three doors from defendant, and she procured some milk and warmed it and when this was given to the baby and the little one sucked it ravenously.

When he called on October 31st the children were somewhat cleaner but the condition of the heads of three of the girls was unsatisfactory. The father was at home on that occasion and witness warned him he would report the matter to the War Office unless there was an improvement, to which he replied: “Don’t do that”, but defendant said: “If my allowance is stopped I shall take the whole lot of them into the Workhouse”. The family left Redbourn sometime in November and for a time he lost sight of them.

On December 28th he discovered them at Church Cottage, Frogmore where the conditions were even worse than they had been at Redbourn. Mrs Hedges and Mrs Ford and all their children were living together. The rooms and the bedding were in a filthy state and the children were very dirty. On January 7th, he went down to Park Street again in consequence  of a communication he had received.

The house was then in an inhabitable condition. Although there were three bedrooms, only two were occupied. The bed occupied by defendant was “teaming with fleas and lice”. The baby weighed twelve pounds as against the average weight of nineteen pounds for an infant of its age. The two women had then been sent to prison on another charge, and the children were fed and taken into the Workhouse.

Dr T. P. Gromort Wells decided to weigh the baby on its arrival at the Workhouse. He said its general condition was poor, and it weighed only twelve pounds. There was evidence of neglect, which would cause the child unnecessary suffering. All defendant’s children were in a dirty condition.

Mrs Thompkins, Matron at the Workhouse, gave corroborative evidence  of the state of the children on their arrival at the “House” and added that they had improved greatly while they had been there.

P.C. Lovell of Park Street gave evidence of the woman leaving her children alone in the house at night.

Accused, in her defence, said she only received 22 shillings a week allowance for seven of them and 7 shillings went for rent, rates and insurance, leaving her with 15 shillings which was not sufficient to feed and clothe her children properly. She had not neglected them.

Private Henry Hedges, husband of the defendant, called by her as a witness, said he had never found the children neglected. When he had seen them they had good boots on their feet.

Mrs Lillian Sharpe of Radlet, a sister of the defendant, spoke of sending food for the children.

The case against the second defendant, Clara Ford, was then gone into.

Mr Clarke said she was also the wife of a soldier and she had 29 shillings a week allowance from the Army. She also had been warned about the condition of her children. She had been associated with Hedges.

Inspector Westcott said he had known this defendant about eighteen months during which period she had lived at St Albans, Redbourn and Park Street. The conditions referred to in the last case also applied in this one. The defendant’s children were fairly well nourished but when he visited the house on January 8th there was no food in the house.

Defendant, intervening, said that when she left the house on Saturday night, January 6th, she left three loaves.

Private Leonard Ford, defendant’s husband, was called by her to give evidence on her behalf, but in response to her question “Did you find things alright when you were home at Christmas ?” Witness, to her evident surprise said “No” and went on to say that he found the children dirty and verminous and that he left the house because it was not fit for him to be in and went to London.

The Bench retired to consider their decision and on their return the Chairman announced that the women would be given the full penalty and would have to go to prison with hard labour, for six months.

On hearing their sentence, the women merely smiled and adopted a careless and defiant demeanour.

This page was added on 17/10/2014.

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