Monday, 8 September 2014

George Simmonds and Sarah Jane Stringer

Beccles man, George Simmonds, assaulted his wife Sarah Jane and a police constable in 1895. In 1903 he tried to kill his wife and then he committed suicide by slitting his own throat with a razor.

In July 1895 George Simmonds was brought before the Mayor of Beccles, charged with unlawfully assaulting a police constable. Finding the headline in the Ipswich Journal newspaper took me by surprise because the headline read BECCLES POLICEMAN ATTACKED WITH A BILL-HOOK, not BECCLES WOMAN ATTACKED BY HUSBAND.

The story goes that police-constable Leftley was called to the house of George Simmonds, a lodging house keeper, in consequence of a violent attack made by Simmonds on his wife. When Leftley entered the house, George Simmonds rushed at him with a bill-hook. These were traditionally used in agriculture as a small wood cutting tool. The blow cut through the rim of his helmet and knocked it from the constable's head. Simmonds was reported as being "mad with drink". After attempting to strangle the constable, Simmonds was eventually overpowered by several men and subsequently walked quietly to the Police Station. He was later sent to Norwich Prison.

The Lincolnshire Echo newspaper of 12 March 1903 reported a more tragic story, one which shocked me to the core. George Simmonds went to the house of his wife Sarah Jane, who was living apart from him, and after an exchange of angry words, stabbed her in the chest with a butcher's knife. She managed to escape from him where he subsequently committed suicide by cutting his own throat. Sarah Jane recovered. George did not.

George Simmonds was born in 1853, the son of James Simmonds, ag lab, and Mary Turner (The Simmonds name was also transcribed as Simmons, Summons and Summonds). In 1861 the Simmonds family were living in Ingate Street. James, aged 42, was a labourer by trade. James and Mary had nine known children.

George married Sarah Jane Stringer on 20 January 1876 at St Michael's Church in Beccles. Sarah Jane was born in 1853 in Lowestoft, the daughter of Robert Stringer, blacksmith, and Mary Ann Jarvis. What may or may not be telling is the fact that Sarah Jane signed her name on the marriage certificate, George signed with an "X".

George and Sarah Jane had eight children, three of whom died. In 1881, George and Sarah Jane were living in Smallgate Street with their two young children, Robert and Fanny. By 1891 their family had grown from two to six children and they were living in Newgate Street. George's occupation had changed from general labourer to pork butcher. The 1891-2 White's Directory also listed George Simmons [sic] as Pork Butcher of Newgate St, Beccles. However, in 1901 George and Sarah are living separately but close by - he was Titshall Alley (off Northgate Street), living alone, and she was in Ravensmere with four of their children. I cannot yet find any evidence of George Simmonds being a lodging house keeper between 1891 and 1901.

Northgate, Beccles

Now that I have read the two newspaper reports, I understand why they were living apart and why Sarah Jane was recorded as a widow on the 1911 census return.

In 1911 Sarah Jane was living in Rosemary Lane (off Northgate Street) with four of her children, Edward; Herbert, Frederick and Rosa (known as Hilda). Edward, aged 24, was working as a carter for the Co-Op Stores Society. Sarah Jane's daughter Fanny (born 1879) married Ernest George Turner on Christmas Day 1899 at St Michael's Church. He was a Printer Pressman, aged 27 and she was aged 18. Her brother Robert and sister Elizabeth were witnesses. They were married by Rev. John Rowsell. In 1911 they were living at 10 Hungate Street and they worked together at Burton's Stores. They adopted a daughter, Cicely Vera Pruse [sic] who was aged 7 in 1911, after having had two children that both died in infancy.

Sarah Jane's father Robert Stringer died in Edgefield, county Norfolk in 1919, aged 91. Amazingly he outlived each of his three wives (Mary Ann Jarvis, Amelia Thompson and Sarah Ann Barrett).

Sarah Jane Simmonds died in 1927, aged 73.