A Leicestershire Murder in 1815

Abraham Billson, a pig farmer, married Ann Tibbs at Broughton Astley on 24th November 1812. The couple went on to have four children, the eldest Jonathan Tibbs (taking his mother’s maiden name) was born nearly a year after their marriage, but who died aged just two; a second child named simply Jonathan this time in 1815 just down the road at Leire.

Gloucestershire Old Spot. c1800-1805. James Ward. Yale Center for British Art
Gloucestershire Old Spot. c1800-1805. James Ward. Yale Center for British Art

A third child, Richard Tibbs in 1820 and their youngest child named Abraham, after his father, who was baptised on 20th January 1825. A date which becomes significant once we tell you this story.

A Street in a country village c1815. William Henry Hunt
A Street in a country village c1815. William Henry Hunt

On the 28th March 1825, Abraham was charged with the brutal murder of his wife Ann, who, by all accounts he had been badly treating throughout their marriage due to his jealous nature.

As well as being a farmer, in the mid 1810’s Abraham added to his portfolio and bought a bakehouse which occupied a small piece of land at Sutton-in-the-Elms. He was the son of a farmer and of respectable circumstances, by the time of this event his father, a farmer had already died leaving him a reasonable inheritance.

Apparently, Abraham and Ann’s marriage was not all plain sailing and the couple had regular fall-outs and Ann had previously sworn before the magistrate about her husband’s behaviour, but it was on the 6th December 1824 that things were to finally come to a head. Abraham had apparently been drinking, and, afraid for her safety Ann left the house to seek the help of a neighbour. Abraham just swore at the neighbour and told him to go home.

The couple continued to argue all day until seven in the evening when another neighbour heard screams and cries of ‘murder’ coming from her neighbour’s house. She looked through the window and there she saw Anne laying on the floor covered in blood. Despite this, somehow Anne managed to get up, still grasping at her throat and dragged herself out of the house. She somehow managed to stagger along the street, where she was spotted and taken in by a neighbour who described her as having been ‘covered with gore from her bosom to her feet‘.

A stream of blood still rushing from her throat, which had been cut in such a dreadful manner that she now was no longer able to speak and within a few minutes she was dead. Her throat had been cut six or seven inches in length and two inches deep and the windpipe had been completely severed from the root of the tongue.

Morland, George; The Piggery; Lady Lever Art Gallery
Morland, George; The Piggery; Lady Lever Art Gallery

What added to the horrific event was that the couple’s eldest child was witness to the carnage. Abraham fled the house but was soon caught a few fields away from the house.

When he appeared in court he claimed mental derangement, but no proof of this was found, and the jury, after only a few minutes found him guilty. Sentence was passed. Abraham just shook his head and claimed that all the witnesses were lying.

The village of Leire, Leicestershire
The village of Leire, Leicestershire

Abraham was described as, a ferocious but ill-looking man and that Ann was an excellent woman, beautiful and of good character and that there were no grounds for suspecting any infidelity on her part i.e. no obvious justification for the murder.

After only a few days Abraham was hanged, confessing to his sins only minutes before meeting his maker.

The curious part to this story can be found in the parish register for 20th January 1825, so after the death of Anne. Someone took the couples youngest child, Abraham Tibbs Billson to be baptised. The child’s father is clearly named as Abraham,  against the mother’s name it say Anne – murdered.

So, who presented this child for baptism? It can’t have been Abraham as he was in prison awaiting trial? Perhaps the child’s grandparents, we’ll never know.  By June 1825, there were 3 orphans, the youngest a mere baby, what a sad start to life for them.

Featured Image

Morland, George. The Cottage Door. Royal Holloway, University of London

Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)

Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet: myths and facts

We looked at Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet of Market Bosworth in an earlier blog, and we promised we’d return to him in due course, to take a closer look at the man and his family.

Sir Wolstan was a pugnacious and pig-headed bully, and legend suggests he committed an awful crime.

Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

We mentioned in our previous blog that Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall for a time, while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’. At times, it’s difficult to know what is true and what is a tall tale when it comes to Sir Wolstan: he’s reputed to have made his butler the headmaster of the grammar school, purely because he could do so and no-one could nay say him. But, we reckon we can debunk that last one as a myth; we’ll say why at the end of this blog.

Sir Wolstan Dixie also fell out with his neighbours, particularly with Wrightson Mundy of Osbaston Hall and Markeaton. Dixie attacked one of Mundy’s waggoners when he caught the man driving across his park so Mundy disguised himself as a waggoner and repeated the offence. When Dixie tried to pull the waggoner down he got the surprise of his life when the man revealed himself to by Mundy, who then proceeded to deliver one almighty beating to the bemused Sir Wolstan Dixie. Possibly Mundy was the same squire with whom Sir Wolstan came to blows after the latter had closed off a footpath which gave access across some of his land. Shortly afterwards, Sir Wolstan appeared at court and was presented to George II and the king, when he heard that Sir Wolstan’s estate was Bosworth Park, recalled the ancient battle fought in 1485 and asked, “Bosworth! Big battle at Bosworth, wasn’t it?” With the memory of his recent fight fresh in his mind, Sir Wolstan stupefied the king when he replied, “Yes, Sire. But, I thrashed him!”

Wrightson Mundy, Esq. (1715-1762) by an unknown artist; Derby Museums Trust
Wrightson Mundy, Esq. (1715-1762) by an unknown artist; Derby Museums Trust

In May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, he married Anna Frere, a young, beautiful and – most importantly for Sir Wolstan – an extremely wealthy heiress. Anna had been born on the island of Barbados in 1711, the daughter of John Frere who, just before his death in 1721, was the acting governor of Barbados. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, and her young family (there were four daughters, of whom Anna was the eldest, and two sons) returned to London and took a house on Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury. Elizabeth Frere died in March 1735 and just two months later, Sir Wolstan snared his young bride… and her fortune which amounted to over 20,000l.

In our earlier blog we recounted how Sir Wolstan kept Anna a virtual prisoner at his Leicestershire estate, Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth, while she was pregnant later that year, having given his coachmen instructions that Lady Dixie was not to be driven further than three or four miles distant from her home. He also had Anna’s old family servant arrested and thrown into Newgate on a trumped up charge of theft when she displeased him.

Bosworth Hall. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Bosworth Hall. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The couple’s first child, born in 1736, was a daughter who was named Rebecca. There followed a son, Wolstan in 1737 and another daughter, Anna born in July 1739. Lady Dixie died giving birth to Anna; she was buried at Market Bosworth on 5 July 1739.

After just over a year’s mourning, Sir Wolstan married again. His second bride was Theodosia, daughter of Henry Wright of Mobberly Cheshire, and the wedding took place on 26 December 1740, at the bride’s parish church. With Theodosia, Sir Wolstan had six more children, one son, Willoughby, born 1742 and then five daughters, Purefoy (born 1743), Theodosia (born 1744), Eleanor Frances (born 1746), Rosamond (born 1747) and Juliana (born 1749).

Lady Dixie by Henry Pickering; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Lady Dixie (it is not known which of Sir Wolstan’s wives this is) by Henry Pickering; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Theodosia died in 1751. The painting below, of Sir Wolstan Dixie and his family, is dated four years after her death, and shows Sir Wolstan’s nine children. From left to right, they are probably Juliana, Eleanor Frances, Willoughby, Rebecca, Purefoy, Theodosia, Anna, Wolstan and Rosamond, with Sir Wolstan Dixie seated far right.

Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)
Wolstan Dixie (1701-1767) 4th Bt of Boston Hall, Leicestershire, and his family seated around a harpsichord by Henry Pickering, 1755 (via Wikimedia)

At Scarborough, in September 1758, Sir Wolstan married for a third and final time, to another wealthy heiress, Margaret daughter of William Cross, a ‘young lady with a handsome fortune’. Two of his children had, however, died since that family portrait had been painted. Purefoy Dixie was buried on 22 July 1757 at Market Bosworth and her sister Theodosia is also said to have died the same year.

Anna Dixie, the younger of the two daughters from Sir Wolstan’s first marriage to Anna Frere also died, and was buried 13 February 1758, aged around 19-years. It is Anna’s death which has given rise to a terrible legend. We can find no corroboration of it in contemporary sources, so give it here merely as hearsay.

It came to Sir Wolstan’s attention that Anna was surreptitiously meeting a young man in Bosworth Park (some sources say he was the gardener). In a cruel plan, Dixie set man-traps, intending to catch his daughter’s beau in one, but it was Anna herself who stepped into the device. Her screams led to her rescue from the jaws of the trap and she was carried back to the hall, bleeding heavily. There she died, and it’s said that her ghost haunts the hall to this day.

Lovers in a Landscape by Pieter Jan Van Reysschoot, 1740
Lovers in a Landscape by Pieter Jan Van Reysschoot.

We have absolutely no idea how much of that tale is true, if any at all. What we can say, however, is that the portrait below, merely labelled as Miss Dixie and by Henry Pickering, dated to c.1750-1755, must be either Rebecca or Anna Dixie. (We have seen it erroneously called a portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie, but this is impossible as she is too young to be the lady in this portrait.)

Miss Dixie by Henry Pickering, c.1750-55 (probably either Rebecca or Anna, eldest daughters of Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet)
Miss Dixie by Henry Pickering, c.1750-55 (probably either Rebecca or Anna, eldest daughters of Sir Wolstan Dixie, 4th Baronet); Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Rebecca Dixie died, unmarried, in 1762 and was buried 19 April at Market Bosworth while Juliana, the youngest of the Dixie children died in the December of the same year. Only the two sons, Wolstan and Willoughby, and two of the girls, Eleanor Frances and Rosamond survived their father, who died in 1767.

Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams
Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams

Two years later, Sir Wolstan’s eldest son, also Wolstan and, since his father’s death, the 5th Baronet, was declared a lunatic. Willoughby Dixie, the second son, took over the management of the estate, and of the grammar school. It was Willoughby who appointed Joseph Moxon, a waiter at a local pub, to the position of headmaster. This is clearly the origin of the story that Willoughby’s father appointed his butler to the job. Unless, of course, it was a case of like father, like son?

N.B.: The chapel of the Fleet Prison in London was notorious for clandestine marriages. On 19 May 1734, one Wolstan Dixie married a woman named Mary Guest. It’s an unusual name; there certainly weren’t many Wolstan Dixies around of marriageable age in 1734. We’re just throwing it in there, as a possible first marriage to Sir Wolstan… and if it was him, then either Mary Guest died within a year of her marriage or Sir Wolstan added the charge of bigamy to his many offences.

Sources:

Relevant parish registers

The Baronetage of England, Thomas Wotton, Richard A Johnson and Edward Kimber, 1771

Cases in Chancery: The Attorney-General v. Dixie. Bosworth School, ex parte. 1807

Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975

London Evening Post, 28-30 September 1758

Maidservant (British English School); The National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle

Betty Barker: no ordinary servant

Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Baronet of Bosworth Hall at Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was many things, and chief among them was the fact that he was a bully. For a few short months, Samuel Johnson lived with the family at Bosworth Hall while he was employed by Dixie as an usher at the local grammar school, ‘but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation for which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror’.

Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries
Sir Wolstan Dixie (1700-1767), 4th Bt, Market Bosworth by Henry Pickering, 1741; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

On 1 May 1735, at All Hallows by London Wall, Dixie married 24-year-old Anna Frere, the wealthy eldest daughter of John Frere of Barbados (Anna had been born on the island in 1711 and was also one of the heiresses of her grandfather, Tobias Frere). Anna’s mother had died just weeks before. It’s tempting to speculate that Dixie saw his chance and pursued solely Anna for her money (she had ‘upwards of 20,000l.), and probably that’s pretty close to the mark.  Along with his bride, Sir Wolstan also took on the employment of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Barker, who had worked as housekeeper and head servant for Anna’s mother, Elizabeth, for twelve years until Madam Frere’s death in March 1735, and then for Anna until her marriage. The Frere’s London house was in Bloomsbury, on Great Russell Street; John Frere had been acting Governor of Barbados just before his death on the island in 1721, after which his widow and children had returned to England. Betty Barker had worked for the family since that time.

The Southeast Prospect of the Church of All Hallows, London Wall in 1736
The Southeast Prospect of the Church of All Hallows, London Wall in 1736; Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Betty was utterly trustworthy. When, straight after the wedding, she was ordered to quickly pack up all the household belongings, close up the London house and head to the Dixie’s Leicestershire mansion, Bosworth Hall, she followed the instructions implicitly. There just wasn’t enough time, however, to pack properly and Betty ended up opening drawers and throwing armfuls of the contents into packing trunks which she left with trusted friends. She was honest about their contents, saying to her friends as she deposited the trunks with them that she knew some of the Freres’ belongings had got mixed up with her own, and that she would sort them out and return everything to its rightful owner when she was next in London. It was to prove a disastrous mistake, one compounded by the fact that Betty had been gifted so many of the Freres’ cast-offs. (The Frere family quite obviously viewed Betty with great affection; she had cared for them during all their time in London and they held her in high regard.) Betty had also pretty much worked for nothing except the gifts that the family had bestowed on her; by the end of 1735, Betty was owed five years wages. It’s clear that she viewed the cast-offs she’d received from the family as a form of recompense for her labour.

Maidservant (British English School); The National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle
Maidservant (British English School); The National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle

Reading between the lines of what happened next, it looks like Sir Wolstan had been snooping on his wife’s letters in the interim. He had intercepted one from Betty to Anna, Lady Dixie, in which Betty ‘mentioned the names of Capt ___ and a Baronet; and told [Anna] it was unfortunate she married so soon, for she might have had such, or such a Gentleman’. Betty, it seems, already had the measure of Sir Wolstan. He saw his chance in the Frere and Dixie belongings found in poor Betty’s possession, dismissed her and, after Betty had returned to London, had her charged with theft. Declaring he would have Betty hanged before Christmas, if it cost him a thousand pounds, he saw his wife’s servant incarcerated in Newgate prison.

It must have been an horrendous ordeal for Betty who caught gaol fever and nearly died before she even got to court to be tried for theft, on 10 December 1735.

Prisoner: I lived twelve Years with my Old Lady Madam Freer. I kept all the Keys, and was entrusted with every thing that was of Value in the House. After my Old Lady dyed, my Young Lady Married to Sir Wolstan Dixie. In a little time we left off House-keeping in Town, and the Goods were all pack’d up in great haste, to go to Sir Wolstan’s Country-Seat in Leicester shire. And its very likely that I might, when we were in such a hurry and Confusion, put some of my old Lady’s things among my own. The Night before we went away, I would have settled with Madam Freer (my old Lady’s Sister and Executrix) but she said she had not leisure then, and she would settle with me when the Family came to Town again – Sir Wolstan turn’d me away suddenly, and I return’d to London in August last, but Mrs. Freer has never yet called in to settle the Account, and the Five Year Wages and other Money is yet due to mes.

Mrs. Freer: Tis true the Account is not-yet settled and I believe there is five Years Wages due to her

Witness after witness took the stand to testify to Betty’s honesty, and the fact that the numerous items she was supposed to have stolen had been either freely gifted to her, or had been among the ones thrown into the packing cases to be sorted out at a later date.

Mrs. Bainton: I knew her twelve Years when she lived with Old Madam Freer, and, she always behaved in the best Manner and so much to her Mistress’s satisfaction that she left her a Legacy of Ten Pound. Madam Freer dyed the 13th of March and on the first of May her Daughter was married to Sir Wolstan Dixy and they went directly to Lewisham. Sir Wolstan and his Lady came to Town again on Friday the rest of the Familiy came on Saturday. And on Sunday the Goods were pack’d up in a great hurry and Confusion, in order to set out the next Morning for Bosworth in Leicester-shire. The Room was strewed all over with Goods, and the Prisoner was putting them up in Trunks and Boxes, she said she scarce knew where to put things, and believed that by mistake she had put up some of her Lady’s Goods with her own.

Mrs. Collins: I have known her eleven or twelve Years, she was House-keeper and Head-servant , and had the best of Characters from the Family.

When I heard she was in Newgate, I was amazed, and should as soon have thought of hearing the King was there – I live at the Colour Shop. in King’s Gate Street.

Cornelius Maddox, Porter: I assisted her in cording up the Boxes, and Trunks. I said, Here is a great many Things, what must I do with them. Aye, says she, Here is a great many things of my Ladies, as well as mine, I think I will send them to Lewisham. But Mrs. Bingham, and Mrs. Smith, told her she might leave them at their Houses, and accordingly, the Boxes were carried to their Houses publickly.

Mrs. Wright: The Day Sir Wolstan went out of Town, the Prisoner said to Mrs. Freer, Mam, there is a great many things put up, but if in this hurry there should be any thing of my Lady’s intermixt with mine, here are my Boxes, we shall not stay for ever in the Country, and when we return we will put all to rights.

Bosworth Hall. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Bosworth Hall. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Also among the witnesses were Elizabeth and Rebecca Frere, Lady Dixie’s sister and aunt respectively. Mrs Smith, the Freres’ dressmaker, was also called and asked about a scarlet silk night gown, which was held up in the court.

Mrs. Smith. I believe I made this for my Lady; I have made her three, four, or five such in a Winter.

Prisoner. Would not you have bought that Gown of me when I was going into Mourning for my old Lady?

Smith. She offered to sell me a scarlet Gown before they went into mourning, which was about eight Months ago; and she said, her Lady gave it her – This may be the same for ought I know.

Dress (English) made from Spitalfields silk, c.1735. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Dress (English) made from Spitalfields silk, c.1735. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Next, a yellow silk gown and petticoat was held up for the jury to see.

Smith: I made such a Coat and Gown for my Lady.

Question: How many new Gowns might you make the Lady in a Year?

Smith: A great many – I believe a Dozen in a Year.

Question: And what could she do with so many, if she did not give some of them to her Maids?

Smith: The Lady used to give the Prisoner a great many Clothes, and she never denied or concealed them, but wore them in publick – She told me when her Lady married, she had given her all her Clothes.

Question: Is it not usual for single Ladies of great Fortunes to give away their Maiden Clothes when they marry?

Smith: Yes, it is usual – And all these Clothes in Court were made before my Lady married, for when she married she was in Mourning.

Finally, the bombastic Sir Wolstan Dixie took to the stand. He stuck to his story that the goods had been stolen, and also that his wife had become ‘sick of the Prisoner’. Lady Dixie had been called to appear at the trial, but wasn’t present.

Sir Wolstan: She is at my Country Seat in Leicestershire – She is with Child, and in her Condition, and the badness of the Roads, it might endanger her Life to come up.

Council: Have you not said that you had prevented her coming to Town?

Sir Wolstan: No.

Council: Have you not commanded that your Coach should not go above four Miles from home?

Sir Wolstan: I am not to answer all Questions.

Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams
Miniature of Sir Wolstan Dixie by Gervase Spencer, 1748. © Bonhams

Unfortunately for Sir Wolstan, all his endeavours to lock his wife away at Bosworth Hall proved fruitless, as two men took the stand who had talked with Lady Dixie in the meantime.

Thomas Weaver: This Subpoena I served Lady Dixy at Market Bosworth, on Day last. I told her I came from Mr. Nelson, who desired she would come to Town to clear her Servant. She said, she was nevermore surprized; that she believed the Maid was very innocent; and that she would come with all her heart, but that Sir Wolstan had sent her down a Letter, and threatened it should cost her her Life if she came – she said she had been served with one Subpoena before by Mr. Street – I set out on Saturday Night last at half an Hour past eight. I took post at Littleworth, and rid a-cross the Country with the Post-boy.

Robert Nelson: The Prisoner sent for me to Newgate, and I knowing how she had been trusted, and what Character she bore, I took Horse this [Satur] day was a Fort-night, and arrived at Bosworth on Sunday. I told Lady Dixy, that Sir Wolstan had sent her Maid to Newgate. She said I am surprised that Sir Wolstan should offer such a thing, I believe she is as innocent as the Child unborn. He must know that she had a great many things of mine which I gave her. I told her among other Things, that she was charged with stealing a Locket and some China. She answered I gave her the China, and as for the Locket it was but a paultry Thing, that Sir Wolstan gave me, and I bid her lay it by among her other odd Things till I came to Town, and then I would settle with her, for I owe her a hundred Pound, I told her, when I came to London I would send her a Subpoena. She cryed, and said she would come with all her Heart, and would pack up her Things to be ready against next Friday

We said at the beginning that Sir Wolstan was a bully; he had told his wife that if she went to London for the trial he would ‘throw her off, and she shall never live with me again’. Lady Dixie was, effectively, a prisoner in her own home.

It took the jury no time at all to find Betty Barker not guilty on all the charges.

…after a long trial, she was acquitted, with the greatest honour that ever woman was, the jury not going out of Court about the verdict; after he acquittal, her Counsel mov’d for a Copy of her Indictment; which was directly order’d her by the Court, without any Debate.

There was one more prisoner at the Old Bailey that day, and Betty Barker acted as a witness for him. Richard Paine had been Sir Wolstan’s butler, and he too had been committed to Newgate on a charge of stealing two shirts and a bob-wig belonging to Dixie.

Prisoner: I lived with Sir Wolstan from May the first, to June the twenty second. And when I went into his service, I agreed to have his old Cloaths. One day as I was puting on his Shirt, he asked me why I gave him a torn Shirt, Sir, says I, they are all so bad the Maids can’t mend them. Well, says he, I have got some new Cloth, and I’ll have Caps made of the best of these, and do you see that the Maids do not make Aprons of the rest. I told him I would take care of that for my own sake; but Sir, says I. you have got several old mouldy Wigs, what shall I do with them? He bid me take ’em, and do what I would with them.

Sir Wolstan: I never said so.

Elizabeth Barker, (the last Person that was try’d.): He was my Fellow-servant, at Sr. Wolstan’s, where he behaved in a very civil honest manner – Two Weeks before he was discharged, I heard him say publickly, that Sir Wolstan had given him two old Shirts, and an old Wig.

Richard Paine was also acquitted. For the gutsy Betty though, the story didn’t end quite there. She brought a civil action against Sir Wolstan Dixie for false imprisonment and for a malicious prosecution, seeking damages of 2,000l. and, while she won, she was only awarded damages of five shillings. Sir Wolstan was better prepared for this fight; he turned up with his wife (and no doubt she had little option but to reinforce her husband’s words) and managed to persuade the jury that Betty Barker didn’t quite merit the good character she’d been given at her trial. (It’s worth remembering here that not one person other than Sir Wolstan said anything to Betty’s detriment during her trial at the Old Bailey, and their were numerous witnesses.) Betty was outraged and did try to take things further and bring about another action, but Sir Wolstan had taken enough and pulled his weight to halt the proceedings.

Thereafter, Betty Barker fades from sight; we know she was living on Great Winchester Street in the City of London during 1736. Unfortunately, there were many women with the same name in London and it’s nigh on impossible to track her further.

Watch out for a further blog when we’ll delve a little further into the life, and family, of Sir Wolstan Dixie.

Sources:

Old Bailey Online

National Archives, C 11/321/32

Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate, 1975

London Evening Post, 29 April-1 May 1735

Daily Journal, 11 June 1736

Old Whig, or The Consistent Protestant, 8 July 1736

Newcastle Courant, 19 June 1736

Mary Linwood (18th July 1755 – 2nd March 1845) – needlework artist

‘Mary Linwood was to needlework; what Chippendale was to carpentry’.

Hoppner, John; Miss Mary Linwood (1755-1845), Artist in Needlework; Paintings Collection

She was the daughter of Matthew Linwood and his wife Hannah Turner, (daughter of John Turner, a silversmith in Birmingham). The couple were married in Birmingham 19th May 1753, Matthew’s occupation was that of a linen-draper at that time.

The couple produced 6 children: Matthew (1754), Mary (1755), Samuel Whalley (1756), Sarah (1758), John (1760) and William (c.1762), but in March 1783 Matthew died. When Mary was only 9, her mother, Hannah opened a private boarding school in Leicester, and upon her death, Mary continued to run it for a further 50 years.

Matthew the eldest son and in turn his son, Matthew were to become a plater and buckle maker silversmiths in Birmingham, whilst two of Mary’s brother’s, Samuel Whalley Linwood and his brother, William, went off to Jamaica to make their fortune.

It was here that Samuel met a mulatto girl, Priscilla Reid and the couple produced four children George, 1788; Mary 1789; Jane 1791 and James 1794). Samuel died in Jamaica and was buried at Kingston on 11th June 1801. He must have had some financial help from his mother, Hannah, as in her will of 1805, she made specific reference to his death and monies owed amounting to over £750. Equally, she ensured that his four offspring were provided for. Whether she ever met these grandchildren we may never know.

Apart from taking over as the matriarch of the family, acting as a witness at her sister, Sarah’s marriage, sorting out the will for her sister when her husband, Samuel Markland died, Mary was renowned for her undoubted talent for producing tapestries creating stitches of different lengths on fabric made especially for her. Her works were mainly copies of works by the likes of Joshua Reynolds and in particular, Gainsborough.

Illustrated London News 24 March 1945
Illustrated London News 24 March 1945

It was at the end of 1844 that Mary was taken ill, with influenza during her annual visit to London for an exhibition of needlework. She was so ill that she was taken back to Leicester in an invalid carriage and died just before her 90th birthday.

The Ipswich Journal reported that many poor families would miss her benevolence. It reported that for at least the previous thirty years Mary would rise no later than 4.30am to capture as much daylight as possible and would work until sunset. She was described as possessing:

singular energy and enduring vivacity and was apparently producing work for well over fifty years. She was also well-known for dancing locally to see out the old year and welcome in the new year.

A Mr Gardiner said of her that:

Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter. She sketches the outline, then the parts in detail and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work, accoutred as she was with pincushions all around her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and having once touched the picture with a needle, instead of a brush, she would recede five or six paces to view the effect. Leicester was a convenient place for dyeing her worsteds, but still, there were some she could not obtain, but being a woman of great genius, she set to work and dyed them herself. Her works were displayed in London for almost forty years. They were arranged in two galleries on the north side of Leicester Square. A small room called the ‘Scripture Room’ opens from the first gallery. In this smaller room, there is ‘The Judgement of Cain’ and a copy of Carlo Dolci’s ‘Salvator Mundi for which she was offered and refused three thousand guineas. The judgement of Cain was her last piece of work and took her 10 years to complete and was finished when she was 75. She was also to meet Napoleon and Josephine on one of her visits to Paris.

Mary exhibited her work around Europe including France and Russia, where Catherine the Great offered £40,000 for the whole collection.

Napoleon Bonaparte. Victoria & Albert Museum
Napoleon Bonaparte. Victoria & Albert Museum

In her will, she bequeathed £100 to Leicester Infirmary, the remainder of her estate to family members. She bequeathed the Salvator Mundi to Queen Victoria, who accepted. She asked that if her works were not sold in one lot to a private collector that they should be split up and sold, with the proceeds being divided equally between seventeen recipients.

Courtesy of the Story of Leicester
Courtesy of the Story of Leicester

Mary died on 2nd March 1845 and was buried, at St Margret’s church, Leicester at which she was a regular attendee and where her parents were also buried.

Sources

24D65/A4.  Burial of Matthew Linwood senior parish register, 7th March 1783. St Margaret’s Leicester

The History and antiquities of the county of Leicester. Compiled from the best and most ancient historians (1795-1815) Matthew Linwood. Died 28th February 1783, aged 56.

Familysearch Jamaica parish registers

Miss Linwood’s gallery of pictures in worsted, Leicester square

Legacies of British Slave Ownership

Bailey’s western and midland directory; or, merchant’s and tradesman’s useful companion for the year 1783.

Exhibition of Miss Linwood’s pictures at the Hanover Square concert rooms. Admittance one shilling. 1798

A catalogue of the pictures, sculptures, models, designs in architecture, prints etc exhibited by the Royal Incorporated Society of Artists. 1776

Leicestershire Mercury 8th March 1845

The Ipswich Journal, Saturday, March 22, 1845

La Toilette, François Boucher.

18th Century Stockings – how shocking!

lwlpr08916 - french fashion - note stocking
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We know from our research into the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, one of the fashion icons of her day, that she spent a considerable amount of money on clothes, hats and finery. Looking at some of her receipts we noticed that stockings featured on them, so with that in mind we simply had to do some more investigating into stockings of the day. Clearly not a subject not to be discussed in polite society, but how else should a Georgian lady keep her legs warm? A glimpse of the calf was regarded as shocking and tantalizing.

Following a recent visit to the Wallace Museum, this image was far too good not to include  – wonder what the gentleman on the ground was admiring?

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)

Here on the left of the painting, we have one of the prostitutes in Hogarth’s The Rake at Rose Tavern, Scene III of The Rake’s Progress, 1733, displaying her stockings whilst she adjusts her shoes, not a practice that would have been acceptable for a lady!

A Rake's Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth.
A Rake’s Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth. Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Many women today wear tights, although stockings are still extremely popular, especially the ‘hold up’ variety which sit toward the top of the thigh, although for some the suspender belt remains an important feature of the underwear as a means of holding the stocking in place. There was no such item in the 18th Century, so how were stockings worn and supported?  For those who are not aware, neither did pantaloons, drawers, knickers, pants etc. Pantaloons first put in an appearance in 1806.

The Georgian era saw both men and women wearing stockings, usually brightly coloured, especially for the men as generally, theirs were on show whereas respectable women kept theirs covered. It wasn’t until 1758 that we saw the invention of the Derby Rib machine by a Jedediah Strutt of Derbyshire,  that allowed elastic to be added to stockings, but these were expensive so only the more affluent could afford them.

Taking water for Vauxhall
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

How were they worn?

Well, unless you were wealthy enough to afford stockings with elastic then you had to fasten them with a buckled garter or ribbon. The general consensus seems to be that they were tied just above the knee, although as we’re sure you’re can imagine that would probably have been quite uncomfortable, so it seems most likely that there was no right or wrong way to wear them and that women aimed for comfort, so either just above or just below the knee, in the way that we would for instance wear ‘knee highs’ today.  The garter or ribbon would have to have fastened fairly tightly to stop the stocking from sliding down the leg as she walked.

La Toilette, François Boucher.
La Toilette, François Boucher. ©Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

This portrait by Francois Boucher seems to demonstrate that the stocking was worn just over the knee. However, this one indicates that one was above the knee, whilst the other was possibly on or slightly below the knee. It isn’t possible to be sure as to whether the artist was trying to simply paint a risqué picture or whether the positioning of the stocking was factually accurate. Given that the use of elastic was not that common the stocking would have moved around quite freely on its own, so a degree of ‘slippage’ would occur.

The_Useless_Resistance_ca_1764_68
Jean-Honore Fragonard – Useless Resistance
2010EE8115_jpg_ds- pink stocking V and A
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

The description is taken directly from the V&A website –

Pair of knitted pink silk stockings with dark green clock and gusset. The welt is finished with four thin bands of green and there are three gauge holes. One stocking has the welt finished in white, and the other in yellow and green.

They are shaped but not fashioned, and have a green gore let in at the ankle. Around this they are embroidered with an undulating floral trail with a triangular spot design surmounted by a formal flower above which is a crown.

Many stockings at that time would have been manufactured in Nottinghamshire, home of the lace industry in England. The stockings were made using a framework knitting machine and by the early 1780s, the East Midlands over 90% of these frames were in Nottingham. To find out more about framework knitting we recommend these two websites The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway and The Framework Knitters Museum.

The Art of Stocking Framework Knitting, 1750. © British Museum. The man on the right is operating a framework knitting machine.
The Art of Stocking Framework Knitting, 1750. © British Museum. The man on the right is operating a framework knitting machine.

One of the major supplies of stocking in London was Collyers, of No 41, The Poultry, who, according to The True Briton, 1799, produced ladies china white stockings with cotton feet at only 7s 6d, which is about £12 in today’s money, so not particularly affordable for many. We did try to find a trade card for them but so far no luck!  We could not, however, resist including one or two that we thought you might enjoy.

lwlpr21011 - stocking trade card
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
lwlpr21006 - trade card
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Did you know that according to A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  what we would refer to today as a ladder or run in a stocking was known as a ‘louse ladder’ – delightful, hmm, wonder if there will ever be a revival of that term – perhaps not!

We couldn’t resist finishing our blog in our usual fashion, with the caricature ‘A Leg of Lamb’ courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

A leg of lamb Woodward 1799