Who was Richard Thompson?

On Saturday Mr William Terry, the County Coroner, held an inquest at the Crown and Anchor, Long Buckby, on the body of Richard Thompson, who was found drowned in the canal at Long Buckby, on Friday. Mahala Thompson, landlady of the Crown and Anchor, said the deceased was a labourer, and lived in a cottage at the side of the canal. On Wednesday last he went into witness’s house, about half-past five, and ordered a pint of beer, which he drank, and also some tea and sugar, which he paid for. He left about seven o’clock. Richard Thompson, Stony Stratford, son, said the deceased was 59 years of age, and had been living alone, at Buckby Wharf, for the last 20 years. Henry Allen, lock-keeper, said he and a policeman recovered the deceased from the canal on Friday, close to the Crown and Anchor. Henry Cox, surgeon, Long Buckby, said there were no marks of violence, and he had no doubt that the cause of death was due to drowning. PC Leatherland also gave evidence, and the jury returned a verdict of “Accidentally Drowned.”

Northampton Mercury 1899 Friday February 10
OS Map name 036/SE’, in Map of Northamptonshire (Southampton, 1884-1892), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/northamptonshire/036/se [accessed 15 July 2021].

Richard and Mahala Thompson are not related in any way, absolutely no connections between them other than him drinking in her pub. Mahala and her family come from Essex and definitely are not related to the other Thompsons at the Wharf, Richard probably isn’t – I’m keeping an open mind because I can’t prove it one way or the other at the moment.

But who was the poor unfortunate Richard who came to such a tragic end? He was buried at St Lawrence Church in Long Buckby on 7 February 1899 under the name Richard but the civil death registration names him as Samuel Richard.

Northamptonshire Record Office; Northampton, England; Register Type: Parish Registers; Reference Number 1869-1899 197P/21

His date of death has been given as the 3rd February, which is the day that he was found in the canal. It is possible that he fell in and drowned on Wednesday 1 February, the last day he was seen – he had to cross the canal to get home from the Crown and Anchor.

The cause of death and date leaves no doubt that this is the same person, so who was he really?

His birth was registered in 1838 at Braunston under the name Samuel Richard. I haven’t found a baptism record for him yet but I do know his parents were William Thompson and Elizabeth Luck.

Richard was living at Braunston Locks at the time of the 1841 Census (named as Samuel) with his parents William and Elizabeth. William died in 1847 at Norton Locks where he was working as an innkeeper – at the New Inn. Elizabeth married John Lowe in 1850 and they continued to run the New Inn pub for many years. Richard was living with them in 1851 but returned to Braunston before the 1861 Census. He had married Mary York in 1860 in the Rugby district and their six children were all born in Braunston where he worked as a farmer and victualler. Richard moved to the Wharf before the 1881 Census where he is living with youngest son John and is recorded as a butcher. Ten years later, he is a general labourer living on his own and is recorded under the name of Samuel Richard. He was living in one of the cottages owned by his brother John who was running the New Inn at that time. Generally, through his adult life he was known as Richard, even using that name at this marriage. It is only on the 1891 Census that he gave his full name.

During the inquest into his death, son Richard states that his father had lived alone at the Wharf for 20 years so what happened to Mary? She was very much alive and well and was living with their daughter Emily in Salford, Manchester at the time of the 1891 Census. She can possibly be found in Sheffield on the 1881 Census, working as a ‘widowed’ nurse for a George Hutchinson. After further research and a lucky find in the newspapers it became apparent that Mary had left her husband in 1873 for a very understandable reason:

Richard Thompson, Braunston, was charged with threatening to shoot his wife. Mary Thompson said she lived with her husband, the defendant, up to June 26th. On Tuesday, the 24th, the defendant took a pistol and pointing it at the complainant, said he would shoot her. He had told her the same before and she feared he would carry his threat into execution. He did not fire nor click the pistol but he cocked it. She saw him load the pistol with powder and shot about a week previously, when he said he charged it for the purpose of shooting her. By the prisoner: I think I have made a mistake. It was Monday the 23rd instead of Tuesday, 24th. Defendant denied the charge. The bench thought there had been a threat to shoot, and the defendant must be bound over to keep the peace towards his wife for six months, himself and one surety in £20.

Northampton Mercury 1873 5 July

Very noticeable there that for all of Richard’s denial of his crime, his only recorded comment was that the date of the offence was wrong. He wasn’t the only member of his family to appear in front of a Judge – his brother William was in the court repeatedly for alcohol and assault charges.

Richard made another appearance in court in September 1893 but as the complainant this time. He was assaulted by a neighbour, Susan Neal:

… About ten minutes before twelve o’clock last Saturday he was talking to Mrs Holloway, another neighbour, when the defendant came up and struck him a blow on the left side of his face with her clenched fist. The blow caused him to reel, and before he could right himself she struck him another blow and knocked him down. In falling the right side of his temple came in contact with the coping of a low wall and caused a serious wound which bled profusely […] He had given no provocation, and knew no cause for the assault. He knew a cat of Mr Holloway’s had been hurt and killed, but by whom he did not know. He had never said it was killed by the defendant.

Nuneaton Advertiser 1893 Saturday 9 September

Susan was convicted and fined 5 shillings with 6 shillings costs to pay as well. It appears that Richard recovered from his head injury with no long lasting effects. Another interesting comment made by him in court though – bringing up a cat that had no apparent bearing on the current case and the fact that he didn’t say Susan had killed it, but neither did he say that she hadn’t. I get the impression that Richard and Susan weren’t very friendly towards each other, even before she assaulted him.

Richard’s untimely death in the canal was recorded as an accidental death. It is probable that he crossed the canal using the lock gate, a common occurrence among the residents of the Wharf. Maybe he stumbled or lost his footing somehow and fell into the water. If he hit his head as he fell he may have been knocked unconscious, which would explain why nobody heard him in the water struggling to get out. And without anybody at home, no one realised he was missing.

What became of Richard’s family? As already stated, his estranged wife Mary moved to Salford with their daughter Emily but I haven’t been able to find her date of death yet. Their son Charles also moved to Salford. Youngest son John, who was living with Richard in 1881 at the Wharf, moved to Foleshill and became a coal miner. Richard junior moved to Norton Locks and then on to Stony Stratford. There were two other children, Sarah and William Richard, who are proving to be very elusive – I haven’t been able to trace them yet.

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