Month: January 2019

1956 portrait of a year and a death in Orchard Avenue



Reading archive copies of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre  I experience awe.    Let me explain.  You are utterly unlikely to exist.  That of all the atoms in the universe a selection should come together and constitute you is infinitely improbable.   Between your ears weighing  three pounds is the most complex structure in the universe.  If you exist in a random lottery you are infinitely more likely to be bacteria than  person.  Your body is host to 37.2 trillion organisms, bacteria, fungi, archae, protists, viruses but only one of them is you.  If every living thing in your body were a human being it would equal the population of the earth  multiplied it by 5400.  And you would be one of them.  For every year you spend alive you will not exist for 140 million years.  If the population of the UK were in proportion to this unlikeliness  it would be half a person.   Given the near impossibility of your existence you would be entitled to think that there was some point in your (or my) existence.  There is no evidence that it does.

Reading the archives of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre you realise that somehow we accommodate the inexplicability of existence. Tragedy for a person and family is news to neigbours and largely neglected.  This strange paradox  that we (you, me…) are the most significant being  and at the same time entirely dispensible…   well all I can say is its a  rum do.

Is this purple prose?   I apologise and go back to a crime and a time.


Thanks to the Gazette you realise that many people will get up eat their breakfast, go to the toilet, clean their teeth and  they will not live to see another day.  As Jimmy  Hoffa said: “The undertaker  steals their watch and their wedding ring.”

On Saturday 23 June 1956 at 6 pm Joe Brandon of Orchard Avenue was getting ready to go out.  He would not  see Sunday.

The joy of reading the Gazette from 1956… it is like being in a similar but different world.  The Suez crisis happened…  although this was a foreign policy snafu  of Iraqi proportions there was no defining moment: it was like the air leaving a balloon.  An astonishing amount of news print is taken up with foreign news.  We export Harry Allen to hang  9 Cypriot terrorists, or probably just 9 Cypriots.   In his retirement Harry Allen gave out change on Fleetwood Pier.

The Gazette explores daftness in its  letters.  The terms “Wog” and “Gyppo” are used freely.  They will melt away at the appearance of “British Steel.”  An editorial approves when a Policeman (Kenya I think) is dismissed for marrying a Kikayu.  The editor has the right to answer all letters and so has the last word on everything.  He explains that he has heard that Kikayus make good wives.  So that’s all right then.

Mr Russell is awarded £350 to be paid by the correspondant who had been “cuckolding the petitioner.”  “Mrs Russell was a good wife and Mr Russell had lost a competent housewife,” says the judge.

A man writes a letter to the Gazette to complain that he is charged as much by his barber as a hairier man.  Picture  the  mind that would find this the main preoccupation.  Another writer  opines that people who write letters to the paper are all stupid.

A man drowns in the sea… he has been charged with indecent behaviour and he has already served four years for a similar crime.  Another man is charged with attempting to commit suicide.

A war veteran of 60 (First War) known for his cheerfulness hangs himself in his Layton home.

Accidental death is endemic.  Fatal accidents at work, at home, crossing the street… the fact that domestic gas  could eliminate  families.  A fifty year old woman sitting in Redman’s cafe is killed when a piece of  the ceiling lands on her.

Fourteen year old Brenda Coleshill from Runcorn dies in a fall from the Grand National.

Sometimes it is like another century:  this headline: “Cockfight case.”  Sadly it didn’t happen in Blackpool.  My favourite headline: “Trail of havoc in Lytham St Annes- MAD BOAR CHASED THROUGH THE STREETS.”

A man who stole three pounds twelve shillings and sixpence used his gains to embark on a “drunken orgy.”

There were worries about Teddy Boys and controversy when Blackpool Council considered banning a Liberace Film because it had inspired uncontrolled feminine desire.  Liberace.  It is instructive possibly, but I can’t at the moment think why,   that Liberace was the object  of feminine lust.  Was it a symptom of moral decline that three men were convicted for spying on courting couples in the sand dunes?  One of the men claimed that the police were persecuting him and he had been innocently roaming the sandhills with his binoculars.

Errol Flynn looking like I feel most of the time appeared at the Central Working Mens Club off Central drive to award prizes to bodybuilders on TV.

The multiplication and banality of  comedy and tragedy that  is eye-popping. In crime Billy Hill is well known… a household name… he is mentioned in  film…  the predecessor of the Krays…    there is no evidence Billy Hill  ever killed anybody…  unlike the Krays who did.  A brilliant man,  Billy Hill lost his judgement  in his hatred of Jack Spot..  Billy Hill  evolved an intricate but ludicrous  plot to involve Scarface Jock Russo,   who was to claim that he had been attacked by Jack Spot.   The plot involved a vicar who owed gambling money to Hill’s organisation, giving evidence to support the story.  Jock agreed and then fled to Blackpool where he ran a protection racket.

When Billy Hill moved out of crime he opened a casino which was more profitable.

In the Gazette Allan Prior is writing the TV page.  He praises Dragnet an American TV series which he says is “documentary.”  He went on to write Z Cars.


So how did Joe Brandon meet his  end?  He lived with Anne Brandon in Orchard Avenue off Highfield Road.  Anne was not his wife but she used his surname.  Both Anne and Joe had previously been married but were separated.  Another member of the household was Jack  Hibbert a lodger.

Joe Brandon (34)  was a self-employed painter and decorator.  He was not fully employed.

At 4 pm on  Saturday June 23 1956, Joe returns from work.  He complains that there is nothing to eat.  He complains that Anne can’t cook properly, and goes out.  At 6 pm he comes back and gets ready to go out drinking as he does nearly every evening.  Anne asks if they can go out together.  Joe Brandon says no.   At 9pm Joe is in the Waterloo with two of his friends when he meets Jack Hibbert.  At 9.45 they go to the Farmers Arms… the vaults.  In those days women weren’t allowed in the vaults but Anne Brandon could see Joe Brandon from the other bar and sent drinks for him and Jack Hibbert.  At 10.45 Jack and Joseph returned to Orchard Avenue.  Anne Brandon could not get in.  Anne Brandon thinks that Joe has shut her out.

Anne offers to make Jack and Joe a cup of tea.  Joe refuses which upsets Anne.  There is an argument in which Anne accuses Joe of having a “new woman.”  Joe  punches Anne but Jack Hibbert steps between them.  Joe tells Anne to leave.  Anne says: “Where shall I go?”  Anne is standing at the door about to leave.

And then…  you really want to slap him… Jack  Hibbert thinks it will be a good time to put the dogs in a kennel in the back yard.

When Jack comes back… it can only have been minutes… Joe is lying on the floor.

“Good god Jack she’s done me good and proper.”  Anne nurses him and tries to embrace and kiss him.  According to Hibbert Anne tells Joe: “she didn’t mean it and asked him not to leave her.”

An ambulance is called.  Anne says: “If he dies they can hang me.  I don’t want to live if he doesn’t.”  At that time Joe was dead although Anne who had worked as a medical orderly knew that he was seriously wounded but did not know for some time that he was dead.  She asked if she could see him.

Joe had been stabbed with a breadknife which was usually in a drawer in the kitchen. Since Jack Hibbert in his exasperating way had chosen that  moment to see to the dogs  we cannot know the sequence of events.

The pitiful image of Anne in the ambulance.  She is covered in blood.  She wants to believe that Joe is still alive.  She wants to see him.  Somewhere in her mind the idea is forming that she has killed the one she loved.



The trial was in October in Lancaster.  Jack Hibbert witnessed many of the events.  His evidence was that Joe Brandon hit Anne  and that he was nasty  towards her.  He disparaged her cooking and he refused to go out with her.  When she bought him a shirt he said he didn’t want it.  Jack Hibbert’s  opinion was that Joe was embarrassed by Anne’s deafness.  Anne’s deafness must have been moderate… she was able to give evidence in court.  Here is Jack Hibbert’s reply to a question: “It is clear to you that despite these quarrels that the woman was very fond of Joe Brandon.”


Anne was providing money and gifts for Joe.  Joe comes across as being  dreadful.     Anne said that their relationship was happy at first but that Joe had troubles at work and then worked for himself and then did not have a regular income.  And he began to drink more heavily and gamble.  On the night of Joe’s death they had both been drinking.

Was Anne Brandon a prostitute?   My reason for asking is that in the Gazette her name is always followed by “described as a housewife.”  This unusual form of words must mean something.   If Anne  was a prostitute it is a rare case of a prostitute killing somebody instead of being killed.  We  do not know.  Prostitution was  often  part-time or occasional , in a case in Blackpool in the same year a woman explained that she only solicited when she wanted to buy clothes.  Whenever we hear of money changing hands it went from Anne to Joe… but Anne was not working.

Joe was unspeakable in his behaviour towards Anne.  She had been treated for an injured jaw, twice he hit her and broke her dentures  and she had injuries that were still visible at her trial.  She was also being treated for anxiety.   And she suspected Joe might have another girl friend.  They were both drunk.

After his death Joe’s  brother said that he had been in Whittingham Hospital suffering from depression when he was younger.  His brother also said that he had been married but was separated and that his mother had lived with him until Anne Brandon had moved into Orchard Avenue.


The jury had three choices: guilty of murder, of manslaughter or self defence.  Self defence would mean that Anne was not guilty at all.  The jury chose manslaughter and the judge acknowledged that she had been provoked  and had suffered violence at the hands of Joe Brandon.  The judge sentenced her to eighteen months.

It is just within the bounds of possibility that she is still alive.  She killed the man she loved.   Imagine her state of mind in the ambulance, covered in blood, hoping but not believing that Joe is still alive.   Anne Brandon wanted  security, affection.  And instead she got Joe Brandon.   Hopefully she found peace.