Blackpool 1895… deaths, brothels, suicide, indecency, vicars, the Fleetwood fishing fleet.

Looking at a year in newspaper archives is enchanting.   It is like time travel… briefly you are in 1895.  Nobody is alive now who was alive in 1895 and here in Blackpool we walk among relics of Blackpool’s Golden Age… the Tower, the Grand, the Winter Gardens.   Our ancestors…

“fools in old style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy stern

And half at one another’s throats. ”

Philip Larkin




What were they like?    They loved organisations… churches, political organisations, freemasons and similar groups, working mens clubs…  the  number of churches…there were 7 varieties of Methodist Church in Blackpool.  People flocked to become Buffalos and Druids and Oddfellows.  A religion, the Rechabites,  was founded in Salford.

They had a painful sense of humour.   You read: “An amusing incident” and you know you are in for something numbing  banality.  They had an unhealthy interest in  prostitutes as do we all.   It was  the golden age of the loopy vicar.  Our ancestors managed to combine  a matter of fact attitude to death with sentimentality.

Typical headlines from 1895:

“Singular death of a Child

Hit on the Head with a Shovel.”

“A Lunatic at Large.”

Or “Bad Boy Birched. ”

Victorians thought that they were the bee’s knees.   We can see their delusions but we cannot see our own.

Life was getting better. .  Life expectancy is about forty and one in five die in infancy.   Small pox and  typhoid persist.  The health reports make uncomfortable reading …  there were ten private slaughterhouses and one public one.  There were privies and cesspools and things I don’t like to think what they were… ashpits.  Sewers were a problem.

With so many horses…   deaths increased in the warm months.


All through the newspapers religion looms large.  Clergymen were treated like celebrities.  There was a weekly portrait of a local clergymen.  At the drop of a hat a local clergyman would condemn…  well anything: gambling, alcohol, novelettes, the theatre…  The finest condemner  was the Reverend Balmer who worked himself into a fine  frenzy.  His  work: “Paris, Sodom and  Blackpool, ” gives you the flavour.  His sermon picturing Jesus coming to Blackpool, for reasons not fully explained the Town Council has invited the Prince of Peace to visit Blackpool: “He would find multitudious hypocrites not only in churches but in the warehouse and the market place. ”   Whew.

Anglicans were converting to Catholicism in the way that public school lads in the 30’s would “join the Party.”  When the chapel at Layton Hill Convent was consecrated Father Bernard Vaughan  looked forward to the conversion of England.  The Mayor was criticised at St Johns  for attending a service in Sacred Heart.  Articles and letters titled: “Rome or Reason.” and warnings against “Romanism.”

One feels a pang for the reporter who attended the Primitive Methodist Tea Party.


Although the Purity Crusade is mentioned in newspapers I do not know if it was an organisation or a name the press gave to a campaign against brothels and indecency.   I have already written about Blackpool Brothels  in “Victorian Sex Tourism,” so I will concentrate on  one case.

7000 military volunteers were stationed at the sandhills in the south of the Town.  7000 young men in a town whose winter population was 24000 according to the 1891 census. Go figure.

After surveillance a brothel at 122 Lytham Road was raided on 21 June 1895.  All the visitors are officers.

A brothel at 8 Grosvenor Street was raided on August 1 1895.  It was strategically located between Raikes Pleasure Gardens and the Railway Station.

But the raid that  fascinates is on July 28, 1895 at 3 Derby Road.  Catherine Briggs Bolton “a refined looking woman of middle age” was charged with keeping a disorderly house  at 3, Derby Road.    Two Policemen watched the house for many days.  In the course they acquired a ladder and peered through bedroom windows.  On one occasion they saw  “an elderly man,” (he was 50)  holding up a book at shoulder height, the ladies kicking it…    all will be explained.   There was smoking, there was drinking, there were male visitors.  There was kissing and indecent behaviour.

Catherine Briggs Bolton was imprisoned for a month and the others fined.

Except that she wasn’t.  She appealed.  I have never come across a case in the local papers where somebody had appealed against a sentence.  Whatever else Catherine Briggs Bolton had money… or friends.

And when the appeal was heard her solicitor was Mr Callis,  a  quick-witted solicitor advised  her legal representatives.  He hadn’t any difficulty in destroying the case against  against   Catherine Briggs Bolton .  Two constables, Drabble and Duckworth, had been watching the house every night for almost a month.  They saw men arrive, champagne being drunk, smoking.

They managed to put a ladder in the back yard and peer through the windows and seen kissing and indecent behaviour.

19 strange men had entered between 11pm and 2 am.

At the appeal a Constable is questioned.

“Did you ever in the course of your experience see such a respectable brothel?”  His point being that 19 customers in a month or so isn’t very many.

“No Sir.”

The Constable is also asked if he has ever known a brothel where there are no blinds and the curtains are open.  No he hasn’t.



The appeal was successful and Catherine Briggs Bolton left court without a stain on her character.  As far as I can tell the Purity Crusade disappeared.

We have an explanation for the kicking the book incident.  The elderly gentleman aged 50 had been to a show at the Grand that featured high kicking girls and he is demonstrating and asking the girls if they can  manage it.



In an article: “Purifying the Town” (Wednesday June 26 1895)  we learn that Arthur Lomas and John Thornhill are arrested for gross indecency in the lavatory of St Johns Market.  Lomas is a doorman and Thornhill is a waiter.  And Mannaseh Bailey a poultry dealer and Reuben Holmes a surveyor are arrested on similar charges at the same location.  The charges are  too serious to be dealt with by the Police Court and they appear at Lancaster Assizes were they are acquitted.  They are represented by the cunning Mr Callis.  Much is made of the fact that constables are spying on the gent’s lavatory from above and that the gas-lighting is poor.


John Lumsby was a railway pointsman.  On Tuesday night he saw his son Percival at 10 pm.  The next time he saw Percival was on Thursday in the mortuary.  Percival aged 14 was an errand boy at Butcher’s Tailors in Lytham Street.  Charlie Parkinson aged 19 worked at the taylors.  Witnesses say they were the best of friend.  On Wednesday evening at 7pm Percival teased John in an upstairs room by touching his hip as he sat down with a “goose.”  A goose is a heavy iron.  John jumps up and Percival runs downstairs.  John throws some scissors at the retreating Percival and the scissors pierce his back.  Percival is taken to a doctor but dies shortly.

Charlie Parkinson is charged with “wilfully causing death.”  The Parkinson family are well known and there is public sympathy for Charlie.  The well known phrenologist Herr Cohen is among those who subscribe to Charlie’s defence.

At the inquest there is a range of options.  Charlie and the Parkinson family are advised by the solicitor Mr Callis.  There is a  duel between the Chief Constable John Derham and Mr Callis.  It is clear that the Chief Constable wants to pursue a case against Charlie Parkinson and that Mr Callis wants a verdict of  “death by misadventure.”

Inquests were no joke .  The jury views  the body which has “a peaceful expression as if asleep.”   The doctor offers to show a section of Percival Lumby’s ribs to illustrate how the scissors pierced Percival’s lungs.   The jury could  have a verdict of  murder in which case Charlie Parkinson could be hanged.  Or the jury could find Charlie’s behaviour reckless… he would stand trial for manslaughter.

The verdict was “Death by misadventure.”

Percival Lumby’s father says that the boys were the best of friends illustrating this by saying that Percival had thrown a brick injuring Charlie who had to be off work and that Charlie did not blame Percival for this.  Friendships were robust in those days.

The funeral of Percival Lumby was on Saturday afternoon and was well attended including pupils and masters from St Johns School.  Mr and Mrs Parkinson attended.  What is surprising to present day readers is that the Lumbys bore no ill will towards the Parkinsons.



A  storm  tore the Fleetwood Fishing Fleet on 2 October 1895.   11 Fleetwood fishermen perished.    Blackpool had enjoyed an Indian Summer and the fishing fleet out of Fleetwood had no reason to expect a change.  Boats from Lytham did not set out because a change in  barometric pressure was noticed.

The Fleetwood fishing fleet was  powered by sail.    When the storm hit suddenly at 4 in the morning the fleet headed towards any port.  Five trawlers were lost: Two Sisters, Schoolgirl, Daisy, Sarah and Mariner.  Seamen were lost very close to shore…the Two Sisters was foundered off Central Pier and the crew was lost.    In some cases… the Blue Bell… the trawler foundered but the crew was saved.

Some survivors spent the night clinging to  a shallow island of sand at the mouth of the Ribble.  Besides fishing smacks “prawners” were lost.  These were sailing boats  used to trawl shrimps.  Many of the bodies washed up at Blackpool were from Morecambe and after the Coroner’s Inquest bodies were returned to Morecambe  by sea.  Bodies of fishermen continued to be found for a fortnight  afterwards by which time they were unidentifiable.  The Coroner was busy.  Amongst the bodies washed up was a woman, 40 years old, poorly dressed.  She was not identified.  “Death by drowning.”

The losses of 1895 followed another disastrous year… in  1894 nine  trawlers were lost mostly in storms in October and December.  1894 and 1895 saw heavy losses…  At that rate given that most of the crews perished the working life of trawler crew…  seven years.

The Fleetwood Disaster Fund was established to support the widows and orphans of those lost at sea.


Does life imitate art ?  Oscar’s ghost hangs over  1895… fin de siecle… in 1883 he had given a talk at Blackpool on the “House Beautiful.”  He was paid 14 shillings.  The detective had appeared in fiction… notably Inspector Bucket in Bleak House .  The Jack the Ripper murders reported in the popular press ( one historian thinks there was no Jack the Ripper…  there were separate incidents sensationalised by popular journalism… at first this sounds bonkers until you realise that the “authentic”  Jack murders differ… some say three some say eleven).  True crime and fictional crime (Sherlock Holmes is the model) fascinated the public.

So when John Toomey murdered his wife at Foxhall on October 13 1895… the first significant murder in Blackpool in living memory… it had many of the features of a detective story and the public followed it.

The murderer disappeared.  Incidentally he walked from the Foxhall to the Red Lion in Norbreck.  He was fifty six years old.  Our ancestors were fit.  And some of his clothes were discovered in a field at Norbreck.

He could have committed suicide… but where was the body?  Readers of detective stories thought he could have  given the impression of committing suicide and caught the ferry from Fleetwood to Ireland.  But the police were watching the port and the railways.  He had a history of amateur theatricals.  He could have escaped disguised as a woman.

But… a man in Clarence Gardens, Regent Park, sat down on a seat and shot himself in the head on Friday 13 October 1895.  Joseph’s brother and another friend identified the body as John Toomey.  Except it wasn’t,  Chief Constable John Derham had further identifying evidence from an old injury and the body in Clarence Gardens  was not John  Toomey.

In the wake of the October storm that ravaged the Fleetwood fishing fleet John’s body  washed up at Rossall.

John Toomey dressed as a woman fleeing his pursuers… was this a creature fed by detective fiction… after all there was a contemporary view that Jack the Ripper was disguised as a woman.


A  boredom with Victorian certainties is in the public mood.   “Is it to be opium or cocaine?” asks Sherlock Holmes… (I am going by memory) and his boredom  matches the decadent poets.  Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

At the same time this is  the most orderly Britain.  Disorderly people are dispatched to workhouses, prisons or lunatic asylums.  You can’t go into the Gents in St John’s market without surveillance by the constabulary.  Schools, factories, the church, civil administration are enforcing conformity.

On October 2 October  1895  a lady in Foxhall took an overdose of laudanum.  Laudanum is a solution of opium in alcohol.  It was available in chemists and who knows how it enlivened events in Blackpool. Dancing and drugs.  Mill workers used it as an alternative to alcohol.

In this case the lady died.  Jane Nicholson, 37, as far as I know, was the first reported opiate death in Blackpool.

A suicide is a critic of the world.  Considering the omnipresence of religion suicide was frequent in Victorian Britain.    Take Colour Sergeant Thomas Aspden who was with the Volunteers at South Shore.  He killed himself using a rifle and a cane.  He left a note:
“Dear Wife- goodbye to all the children.  Hope you will forgive this rash act.  Goodbye to all.  Thomas Aspden.  Colour Sergeant.”


The papers of 1895 advertised dozens of patent medicines.  None of them had any effect.  Many of them reflect our anxieties…  a medicine that will “restore manhood.” The phrenologist Herr Cohen warning against phoney phrenologists.  Since all phrenology was phoney …   Is  the same true about religion?    Religion was a money making proposition (of course it was many other things)  so a parson had an interest in discrediting other religions and even other parsons of his own religion.  And he had an interest in raising his own profile.  Were churches like  brothels touting for business and part of an entertainment industry?  When St Peters (Protestant) is built opposite St Cuthberts (Catholic) aren’t they competing over a patch like two prostitutes?

Questions which cannot be answered.  Who was the drowned 40 year old drowned woman?   And what led the man in Clarence Gardens to  shoot himself in the head?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s