Friday, 12 December 2014


After a succession of posts about dark deeds from our shared Wisbech past, I am reminded that Pickwick has neglected one vital part of our Shared Agenda/Prospectus/Vision Statement/ Policy Guidelines (substitute any piece of modern management bullshit with which you are most comfortable) So, with a General Election - if not exactly looming - a flicker on the horizon, this post is by way of a public service broadcast. You will hear many of this phrases over the next six months, and you may need this essential cut-out-and-keep guide as a translation aid. This installment is free, but future issues will be competitively priced at £7.99, payable to Pickwick's offshore ethical investment account.

After a long and thorough consultation… - "My cabinet colleague has come up with a great idea…"
Community cohesion - what happens when migrants are allowed to burn the British flag and other national symbols, and then play the race card when challenged.
Fall for - what ordinary people do when they vote for an idea or policy not approved of by the mainstream parties.
Immigration - something which is great for businessmen, farmers and crooked landlords.
Foreign Aid - a system whereby working people in one country subsidise palaces, executive motor cars and space programmes in another country
Free speech - a state of affairs when certain people in the community can advocate beheading their opponents, and someone who opposes that idea is arrested for 'hate crime'
I hear what you are saying - "Your opinion is worth jack **** to me."
Laughter - what politicians resort to when their logical arguments fall on deaf ears, as in 'Still Laughing at UKIP'.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear - "I'm not answering your question, but I'm going to spin all around the houses with a load of gobbledygook."
Local elections - a process whereby a minority of people in a city, village or urban area decide who will run their affairs of the whole community for the next four years.
People in my community are genuinely feeling the pinch - "I have an all expenses paid flat in Islington, a family home in the Cotswolds, and a villa in Tuscany."
Political Party - a club where the members have to agree with every decision it makes, no matter how stupid or ruinous to the common good.
Populism - something that ordinary people believe is important, but which mainstream politicians think is bad for us - and them.
Postal voting poses certain challenges - "Strewth, the local Labour party has bought all the Asian votes again!"
Socialism - a form of government which takes money out of your pocket, and puts it into the pocket of someone who is either lazy, inept or criminal.
The electorate are vital stakeholders in our shared future - "Phew! Back in power for another four years! Take the 'phone off the hook, Miranda."
The exploitation of migrant labour is repellent - "Have you collected the rent from the Filipino nanny yet, Giles?"
The NHS is the jewel in our crown - "Anyone know where the nearest pawnbroker is…?"
The xxxx candidate conducted a fair and honourable campaign - "LMAO - the xxxx candidate only got 54 votes!"
We must work together, across party lines, for the good of the village/town/city/country - "I'm going to take the mickey out of my political opponents at every opportunity, and belittle them as much as possible."
We're listening to parents - We are telling parents to make trouble for those Lefty idiots, the teachers.
We must resist the inflationary pressure on wages - "That's a 10% pay rise for us MPs, then!"
We will not let this matter rest - "When the media have got tired of this story, we'll just carry on, same-old, same-old

Sunday, 7 December 2014


The story so far. "SCHOOLBOY GANGSTERS ROUNDED UP!"  screamed the local papers. According to Dr Meacock, who chaired the Special Children's Court, the boys,
 "constituted a centre of vice in the town,
and they must be dealt with drastically."

Those of you who follow this blog will remember that Dr Meacock was at the very heart of the controversy surrounding the life and death of Dr Horace Dimock, twenty years earlier, an unfortnate situation which resulted in the infamous riots. So, who were these five desperados, and what were the Industrial Schools to which they were to be packed off, until they reached the age of 16?

Firstly the names of the boys. I received this information from the County Record Office. I imagine they are all now deceased, but at the time their names would not have been available in the press, for legal reasons. They were:

Horace Stephen Freear, age 7
Frederick Hunt, age 8
Stanley Johnson, age 9
Harry Rivett, age 10
Harry Worth, age 10

Their sentence? To spend the years in an Industrial School, until they reached the age of 16. For Worth and Rivett - a 6 year sentence; for Johnson, 7 years; Hunt would serve 8 years, and Freear a staggering 9 years.

The words 'Industrial School' have a vaguely worthy ring to them. There's a suggestion that they were places where youngsters could learn a trade, benefit from a healthy lifestyle, and be taught the errors of whatever ways had led them to become inmates. Older readers will remember the words 'Reform School' and 'Borstal'. These days we skip around the  truth with phrases like 'Young Offenders Institution', but the fact remains that Industrial schools were usually grim places which probably served as training grounds for future lawbreakers. The industrial schools were invariably grim and forbidding places but it doesn't seem that one existed in Cambridgeshire, with the nearest one being in Suffolk.

To their eternal credit, there were those in Wisbech who thought the sentence handed down to these boys was excessive. To use modern parlance, they may well have been "thieving little scrotes", but even so, this was a draconian sentence, even by the standards of 1933. Spearheaded by a Baptist minister, the Reverend R N Armitage (pictured below), a fund was started to appeal the boys' sentence.

Then, the big guns turned on Dr Meacock and his fellow magistrates. The popular periodical, John Bull, said its piece.

After repeating the findings of the magistrates, the journal then let rip.

Early in the New Year of 1934, with the backing of the Isle of Ely Education Committee, a court declared that the sentences imposed on the lads were totally disproportionate. The Wisbech magistrates were humiliated, and costs were awarded against them. It was significant that no-one could explain why Dr Meacroft was even on the magistrates' bench in the first place.

So, what became of The Five Little Martyrs? The records tell us that a Horace Stephen Freear died in 1978, and that Frederick Hunt died in 1971. Of the others, no-one knows. If any readers have information about what these lads did with their lives once they were spared from years in an Industrial School, then Pickwick will be only too happy to publish it.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

In the autumn of 1933, once again Wisbech made it into the national papers. In the same year as the double tragedy of Florence Reeve and her jealous husband shocked people across East Anglia (see the blog for 14 September 2014), a criminal case brought Wisbech into national focus. Here was the headline in the Wisbech Standard.

Let the report in the Wisbech Standard tell the tale of these ruthless gangsters and their reign of terror which had the honest Fenland folk cowering in their beds and in fear of their lives.

For five hours Dr H. C. Meacock (in the chair) and other magistrates sat, on Tuesday, at a special Wisbech Children's Court listening to the evidence in an amazing series of thefts extending over two months, committed by a gang of young Wisbech schoolboys, five of whom were eventually ordered to be sent to an industrial school.

Dr Meacock, I hear you ask. Doesn't he have previous? Wasn't he the man who, twenty years earlier, was most prominent in the sad case of Dr Dimock and The Wisbech Riots? He was, the very same. One of his fellow magistrates was a certain Mr Savory, seen here on the right of the good doctor.

The defendants were first charged with stealing a purse containing a ten shilling note and 2s 6d in silver from the dwelling house of Annie Ward, at Wisbech, on September 5th.

Annie Ward, of Little Church Street, Wisbech, stated that she left her house at 11.55 am to go to a nearby baker's establishment. When she returned five minutes later she found her purse missing from the mantelpiece.

Inspector Bush gave evidence of the enquiries he pursued after being informed of the loss, and read statements which he said were made by the defendants when he interviewed them.

The next charge was one of stealing a box of ante-serum for pigs and 5s worth of groceries, the property of Bert Clifton at Wisbech on September 1st.

Bert Clifton, a farmer, of Gedney, said that about 8 o'clock he left his motor car against the Canal railings near the Empire Theatre. In the car were some drums of ante-serum, which he valued at 22s 8d, and 5s worth of groceries. He was away from his car between 8pm and 10.45pm, and on leaving the Theatre he went direct to the car and did not miss the goods until he reached home.

Inspector Bush stated that on September 11th and on subsequent dates he interviewed defendants, one of whom he said took the groceries out of the car and handed them to another of the defendants, who threw them into the canal. Witness added that one of defendants' parents had rendered every assistance in trying to retrieve the goods from the canal (pictured below)

All the defendants pleaded guilty except one, whose father said that he was in the house at the time of the alleged crime.

The same boys were then charged with stealing a rib of beef and a carton of cream belonging to Susannah Winters, at Wisbech on the same date.

Susannah Winters said that she left her cycle in Clare's Passage at about 6-40pm. On the handlebars was a basket containing a joint of meat worth 2s 3d, and a carton of cream, which had disappeared when she returned to her cycle at 6.55. Inspector Bush spoke of interviewing defendants, one of whom said that one of the others took the meat home and had it cooked. This was denied by the parent. Mr A R Bennett, headmaster of the Queen's School and Mr A V Thompson, headmaster of St Peter's School were present when witness interviewed defendants.

Five of the boys were then charged with stealing cycle lamps at Wisbech on September 8th and 9th, the property of William Callaby, James John Harrop, Kate Rose, and another. Inspector Bush gave evidence in each case.

A charge of stealing two purses and 9d in money, the property of Ivy Irene Hurst, and another, at Wisbech on September 9th was brought against four of the boys. Ivy Irene Hurst said that she went to the Swimming Bath on the date in question, with a friend. After she had left the water, and dressed, she took her shopping bag, which contained her own handbag, inside which was her friends purse, and placed it in her friend's cubicle. A few minutes later they both went back to the cubicle and found that the purses had been taken from the bag. Witness valued the handbag at 7s 6d. Jean Parlett corroborated the previous witness's evidence. Inspector Bush said he interviewed defendants, who admitted being there.

Another summons was for stealing half a pound of butter, a box of Aspro tablets and two cycle spanners, at Wisbech on September 9th. Dolly Mary Willimott Barber stated that she left her cycle outside 6, The Crescent at about 6-15pm. On returning at 6-40pm, she found the articles were missing. In his evidence, Inspector Bush said he saw the defendants on September 10th, and one said that they had all shared "the white sweets, which did not taste nice."

Five of the boys were also charged with stealing a leather handbag containing 2s 7d in money, certain photographs, and one NP match-box, the property of Ivy may Hurst, at Wisbech, on September 1st. Ivy Hurst, of Broad Drove, South Brink, Wisbech, said that at about 9-15am she left her perambulator, in which was her handbag containing the articles, outside Dr Gunson's House. She visited Dr Gunson's surgery at 10-10, and when she came out at 11 o'clock the handbag was not there.

Inspector Bush said that when he interviewed defendants one of them said that a boy took the bag out of the perambulator and hid it under some stones near St Peter's School. All the boys admitted they were there when the theft was committed.

Two of the boys were finally charged with stealing 2s in silver and 4d in copper, the monies of Barbara Joyce Bush, at Wisbech, on September 9th. Barbara Joyce Bush, of the Police Station, Harecroft Road, Wisbech, stated that she left her cycle outside Peark's shop. On the handlebars was a basket, in which was a small bag containing the money. She was only in the shop about three minutes, but when she came out her bag was missing. Inspector Bush spoke of the previous witness reporting her loss to him, and the subsequent enquiries he made. One of the defendants admitted taking the money and sharing it one of the other boys. They bought some sweets with some of the money.

This hearing took place at Sessions House, a familiar Wisbech landmark.

                                             NEXT TIME .....

 The summing up and sentencing ...
The horrors of the Industrial Schools...
The town's response....
The five boys named for the first time ....