Thanks to Robert Leach for this early picture of Lytham Road and the Dunes. The actions described happened in this area. In 1865 the Dunes was the site of John Pearson’s coffee house.
What do the following words have in common? Chav, cash, pal, lollipop. The answer is that they are all derived from Romany. Gypsies have contributed to the culture of Blackpool. Landaus, fortune-tellers, ladies selling white heather. And Gypsies were involved with early circuses and entertainment on the Golden Mile.
In 1782 a fourteen year old girl was hanged for associating with Gypsies. Gypsies were “the other.” Heathcliff and Mr Rochester were associated with Gypsies. Barbara Cartland agitated for legislation to protect Gypsies. Elvis Presley had Gypsy heritage. Nevertheless there are elements of traditional Gypsy life would have the Guardian reader spitting out her croissants.
Gypsies have a longer history in Blackpool than most residents. First in the early 19th Century they camped at North Shore and later at Starr Hills near the Pleasure Beach. Among the families were the Boswells who were close to being Romany Aristocracy.
I am grateful to Robert Leach for drawing my attention to a case that happened in 1864/1865 and involved his fourth grand uncle Lawrence Leach. It is intriguing because it involves “Gypsy Ned”, Edward Boswell. Sadly the facts are incomplete but it reveals a Blackpool which is almost a village surrounded by areas such as Marton which were rural. It is Blackpool on the verge of transition.
In 1864 Blackpool was overshadowed by its neighbour in the Fylde, Kirkham.
Lawrence Leach was a master builder employing six men and he was in the right place. The growth of Blackpool after 1846 and the coming of the railways was unique. Early pictures of Blackpool show a number of tall chimneys. These are brickworks. Blackpool was built from bricks made from clay dug from the ground in Blackpool. If you live in an older house it might have been built by Lawrence Leach. Farmers in particular benefited when agricultural land became building land.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) led to a Cotton Famine as a result of the Union blockading Southern Ports. Lancashire Mill Towns, formerly prosperous, saw unemployment and hunger. Blackpool was partly dependent on these mill-workers.
What do we know about Lawrence Leach? In 1850 he was charged with assaulting his wife’s sister and brother. It was settled out of court. Later he won a race for small boats at Blackpool. He was a member of the Society of Oddfellows. We guess that he was sociable, athletic, strong, sometimes aggressive and a tad on the wild side.
On Friday 3 December 1864 Lawrence Leach left his home in Warbrick Street and his long-suffering wife Eleanor. According to Eleanor he had been “on the spree for a fortnight.” He had “a considerable sum of money.” This seems to have been 20 sovereigns. A Police Constable would earn a pound a week. Lawrence Leach was aged 40 and was one day from his death.
He went to Mrs Blundell. She had a farm on Layton Hawes. Layton Hawes is surprisingly in Marton. It’s name comes from the fact that people from Layton had common land there until it was confiscated by enclosures in the later 18th Century.
Lawrence arrived at about 5.00 pm. There he had his tea and some beer. He gave Mrs Blundell the twenty sovereigns to look after. Between 6 and 7pm he left. A witness says: “He became rather wild” His fortnight’s spree might be catching up with him. Mrs Blundell says she gave him the twenty sovereigns back. George, one of Mrs Blundell’s sons says that he fell over some mugs outside the house. He went to John Pearson’s coffee house. While he was there he demonstrated his athleticism by standing up from a stool with crossed legs without using his hands. He had two drinks and set off back to Mrs Blundell’s but he could not find his way and Mr Pearson’s son , Richard, showed him the way.
About 9pm he knocked on the door at Mrs Blundell’s. There was on answer so he threw a stone and broke a window. John Pearson’s son ran away. Mrs Blundell sent one of her sons for the police and another for Gypsy Ned. According to Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach raised his fists. Ned pushed him and he fell over. He lay on the ground for three quarters on an hour until the Police arrived and took Lawrence Leach to the Police Station. According to one of Mrs Blundell’s sons one of the Police “bobbed” him, that is kicked him. Lawrence Leach was abusive and PC Geddes struck him with his cane. The Police Officers took Lawrence to be drunk and incapable. In fact he was in pain and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Edward Boswell “Gypsy Ned” dressed as a fisherman.
The next day Mrs Eleanor Leach turned up early at the Police Station. She took Lawrence his breakfast and called Doctor Cocker. Lawrence complained of pain. His face was marked. He did not mention Gypsy Ned but said that “a tall Policeman” had hit him causing the marks on his face. He told Eleanor that Mrs Blundell was keeping 20 sovereigns for him. Mrs Blundell also visited him and said she was not charging him over the broken window. Was there was a deal where she did not charge Lawrence in return for the 20 sovereigns? .
Lawrence was taken by train to court at Kirkham. At Kirkham he was not charged and when he returned to Blackpool he took a carriage home. He complained of pain all the time and at 8.30 on the Saturday evening he died. Doctor Cocker examined the body and found bruising and that death had been caused by a rupture of the bowels and that disconcertingly his scrotum was black with bruising.
Lawrence Leach was a well known popular figure and the inquest at the Police Station in Abingdon Street was crowded. The Preston Pilot writes darkly about “imputations against the Police. “The Fleetwood Chronicle says that: “Many people believing that he had died of ill usage at the hands of the Police. ”
Inquests in those days involved the jury viewing the body in the mortuary.
On Saturday 3 December at 7.00 pm, at the Royal Oak, Gypsy Ned said of Lawrence Leach: “I gave it the bugger right. I have marked the bugger right.” At that time Lawrence Leach was dying at his home and died at 8.30pm.
Doctor Cocker said it was possible that the fatal injuries could have been cause by falling over the mugs.
In spite of the Coroner’s advice that there was no clear evidence the Jury’s verdict was “Manslaughter by Edward Boswell.”
The case was to be tried at Lancaster but it was found that there was no case to answer.
There wasn’t any evidence that Edward Boswell, “Gypsy Ned”, had struck a fatal blow. There was the alleged fall outside the farm, and the blows by the Police and the lack of an accusation from Lawrence Leach.
So that is what is known to have happened. What really happened? It seems probable that Mrs Blundell stole the 20 sovereigns. Her evidence, and that of her sons, was in Ned’s favour. Were they acting together? Gypsy Ned was acting as her protector. The evidence that Lawrence Leach fell and that Mrs Blundell returned the money relied on Mrs Blundell’s son. The only other witness, Jane Webster, did not confirm that the money had been returned.
The evidence of the Police Officers is self serving.
All we really know is that a man “on the spree” was arrested and died in Police custody. Blackpool Police did not cover themselves in glory.
And that was it. Lawrence Leach was buried in St John’s churchyard. His funeral was well attended and the Society of Oddfellows were represented. The odds are that his remains are still there, not very far from where he would have been in a cell in Abingdon Street. If you have walked around the church you may have walked over his remains. There is a possibility that his remains were amongst the minority moved to Layton Cemetery in which case he shares the same ground as Edward Boswell.
The Boswell family became well-known. His daughter Ada met Queen Victoria who had an interest in spiritualism and fortune-telling. She was known as: “The Queen of the Gypsies.”
About a year later George Blundell, the son of Mrs Blundell appeared in the Fleetwood Chronicle on 15 September 1865. He eloped with Derelia Boswell the daughter of Gypsy Ned. They had taken fifteen shillings. They were spotted in Fleetwood. Gypsy Ned pursued them and they were apprehended in Knott End. Gypsy Ned declined to prosecute over the missing fifteen shillings.
The American Civil War ended. President Lincoln was assassinated on April 4 1865 by a distant relation of Cherie Blair, the wife of the former Prime Minister. The Cotton Famine ended.
There is still a Romany presence in Marton. The Boswell family are involved in fortune telling. Sylvester Boswell born in Blackpool, was known as “the Gypsy Scholar” and wrote the first Romany autobiography: “The book of Boswell.”
Eleanor Leach had lost her husband. Her story is the saddest. Her husband went out and the next time she saw him he was in a cell and the time after that he was dying in their home. Blackpool was a small place and Gypsy Ned, Lawrence Leach, Mrs Blundell and Lawrence Leach must all have known one another.
Where did these things happen?
Blundell’s farm is approximately the current site of the BLESMA home.
The farm may have been closer to the sea. Gypsy Ned was camped on the property. Mr Pearson’s Coffee House about the site of the Dunes.
Lawrence and Eleanor Leach lived in Warbrick Steet which is now part of Dale Street and amazingly the house is still standing although much changed.
Now 6 Dale Street this is where Lawrence Leach lived with is wife Eleanor. Many thanks to Anne Charlesworth for permission to use this photo.
Abingdon Street Police Station where Lawrence Leach was taken is now the market.
I have been told that there is still a cell underneath the fish stall. Future archaeologists may uncover it. The Police Station is also where the inquest took place.
Thanks to Robert Leach for all his help. He made the point that Lawrence’s sister drowned in a well near Foxhall in 1837 and that his brother Richard was burned to death near the site of the Grand Theatre in 1855. The sheer lethality of early Blackpool gives you pause for thought. Lawrence Leach is Robert’s fourth great uncle. It was his Facebook entry in History of Blackpool (thoroughly recommended) which made me aware of this story. I repeatedly got the locations wrong. Thanks also to the ever patient staff at Blackpool Local History Centre.