Sordid Denaby Story – Four Hours Hearing at Leeds – Remarkable Case

May 1907

Mexborough & Swinton Times, May 11, 1907

Sordid Denaby Story.
Four Hours Hearing at Leeds.
A Remarkable Case.
Husbands Jealousy Or Prisoners Brutality.
Johnson Convicted .

The unlawful wounding case, which has aroused a good deal of interest and not a little loathing in the district, ran its course in the second court of the Leeds Assizes, on Monday.

John Johnson was charged before Mr Commissioner Camp, with having unlawfully wounded Annie Till, the wife of Mr William Till, a miner, of 33, Barnburgh Street, Denaby Main, on April 8th, with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

The case was, in several senses a remarkable one, and deep interest was manifested in the hearing, one of the galleries of the court being crowded.

Mr Yarborough represented the prosecutor, and in the course of the preliminary statement, set forth the facts of the case. Finally, he outlined the jury’s duty in the event of their believing the facts of the case, namely that Johnson certainly did commit an assault upon the woman with intent to do her bodily harm. There was a defence that the assault was committed not by Johnson but by the woman’s husband. If, however, they believed the evidence set forth by the prosecutor, he did not see how they could give credence to the plea.

Mr Jardine appeared for the defence

Mrs Till’s Story.

The woman Annie Till board a slightly better appearance than at the preliminary trial. She stated that she had gone to a wedding party at 8 Cliff view, Denaby, a house occupied by a John Coulan. The prisoner, Johnson, who lodged with Coulan, was there. She had heard that all in the house had been up all night, and she perceived that they were all drunk. The ceremony took place at 8 o’clock, and at 3.30 in the afternoon a man named Pearson knocked her husband off a bench.

A Wedding Party Squabble.

Then her husband went out, and was followed by three or four men, who thrashed him. Witness followed her husband with a young baby in her arms, and when she got outside the prisoner struck between the eyes with his fist, knocking her onto the ground then, while she was in a prostrate condition, he kicked her between the breasts, and the hip, and struck her on the chin. Then she remembered that a man named Coates picked her up, together with her baby, and took her to her home, three streets away.

The Incident in the House.

Then she saw her husband, who washed himself and left the house by the back door, leaving her with the baby and her little boy, who was asleep.

Then Johnson and Pearson came into the house by the back door, the time being about 4.30. Pearson turned round to Johnson and said “there’s only the one in,” and the reply was “Have I to finish her.” Then Pearson came into the room and kicked her on the left side. She cried out and Pearson picked up a piece of iron from the fireplace – (this was produced), – and struck her on the back of the head. She was still sitting in the chair, but the blow knocked her to the ground. Then I asked him to spare my life for the sake of the children. I got up as well as I could, and when I was getting in the corner out of his way he struck me on the crown of my head and felled me, she continued, her voice betraying that she had a lively regulation of the incident. Blood was flowing all over me; I was smothered with it, and all the house was.

Like a Slaughterhouse

Johnson had gone out of the house into the street, where he challenged everybody to fight. She followed him into the street and screamed out. Johnson returned to her, knocked her into the gutter, and kicked her in the nose. After that she lost consciousness, remembering nothing until she found herself in her own home, being attended by her mother, Mrs Brindley, and neighbours. She described the condition of Johnson as “beastly drunk.”

Cross examination.

Mr. Jardine: Can you give me some idea how long you were at the home before you saw the prisoner? – By the time I got my head done the 5-30 buzzer was blowing.

Was Pearson drunk? – Yes, he was drunk.

Was Coates drunk? – No, he was not at the wedding.

Were you sober? – Yes, sir; I never had a drop In my head, I am not used to it.

Had you nothing to drink? – When I got there I had one cup of tea and a glass of rum.

You were there for four hours you know. Do you mean to tell the jury you only had one glass of rum and one cup of tea during that time? – Yes, I had only three glasses of beer all the time I was there, and I think I got my share.

Dancing By Amateurs.

Was there any dancing? – Yes the Irishman were dancing.

Were you dancing? – I cannot dance.

But you was just having a step or two? – Yes, I was, sir.

You are doing it a good deal, where you not? – No, I didn’t.

Well, you were doing it too much for your husband, and made him angry?

Well, let us say you were only dancing a little he was talking a good deal? – No, not above two words?

Only two steps and two words? – No, it was only a bit of fun.

I don’t want to suggest that you did wrong. I suggest that you talked too much to Pearson for your husband to like it? – My husband has never been angry with me all the 14 years I have had him.

Was he drunk? – He has never been drunk in his life.

“A Chapel Man.”

Is your husband a truthful man? – Truthful! Oh, very truthful; he’s a chapel man. (Laughter).

I suggest to you that at this wedding you had a lot of drink, like anybody else? – No.

Did your husband think so? – No, he knows I never take it.

I suggest to you that your conduct with Pearson was such as to make your husband very angry and your husband started the show by quarrelling with Pearson? – No, he did not.

He did not; he is not a fighting man, he has been in Mexborough 23 years, and has never been in a police court in his life. Witness denied that her husband was present when in the afternoon Pearson visited the house.

Mr Jardine: I suggest to you that there was a scuffle between the three of you. And you were pushed into the gutter, you being so drunk that you were unable to stand? – No, sir.

He started the row? – No, Pearson knocked my husband of the bench because he could not pay his turn. He has not done any work for a month.

Was he drunk? – They were all drunk; they had been up all night.

Well, he managed to knock your husband off the bench? – Well, you know what a drunken man is.

When your husband was going away, did not he challenge Pearson to fight? – At the time you were not hurt, you were only pushed in the gutter? – No, it is false.

Now, you know you told us what was said one person and his men came to your house. Are you sure Pearson and this man came to your house, and you sure Pearson came? – Yes, I have known him a good many years.

Do you say nothing was said about knocking your “rotton brains” out to Matt – no, I only heard him say “There’s only the one in,” and “Have I to finish her?”

Was there any reason why they should want to finish you? You have had no quarrel with Johnson; how can you account for those terrible injuries? – The girl who was married was the widow of my brother, who has only been dead seven months.

I think Mrs Brindley was there after the occurrence? That’s my mother.

Did she say served you right? – Would she have been a mother if she had? Did it serve you right? – No.

I suggest to you that your husband said “I shall give you some more before the night is out? – No, he has never thrashed me all the 14 years I have had him.

Today is the first time you have ever said that you asked them to spare your life, for the sake of the children? – Begging your pardon, I told the police I said so.

Don’t you think that was rather an important thing? You didn’t tell the magistrates, you know.

Commissioner Kemp: I won’t go as far as that. Mr Jardine; it was not recorded.

She denied that after she had received her injuries she had said “our Bill’s done it.”

Mr Jardine; You never had any disturbance of any sort of time before with Johnson? – Never in my life.

The Eyewitness.

Thomas Wm. Till, the 10 year old son of the last witness, said he remembered 8 April. That afternoon he was at home. “Somebody got married” that day, and in the afternoon he saw Johnson in the house, striking at his mother. He had just awakened from sleep, being roused by his mother screaming. His mother “tippled” down, and Johnson ran out of the house. His mother then went against the door, and Johnson again assaulted her, knocking her into the gutter, from when she was picked up by Mrs Manley and Mrs Brindley,

Mr Jardine: didn’t you run out of the house shouting “My father has hit my mother on top of the head? – No.

Did he hit your mother on the head with the poker? – No.

Have you been talking to your mother about this case? – Yes.

What did she say? – He says I’ll have him up.

Who, Johnson? – Yes.

Did she not tell you anything else? – No.

Was it not your father who was in the room with the piece of iron? No.

Question by the Commissioner, the boy admitted that his mother had had“a right lot” to drink.

The Commissioner: Why do you think that? Could she walk straight – yes.

Mr Yarborough: was she seated quietly with the baby on her lap? – Yes.

The husband William Till, Denaby miner of 33, Barnburgh Street, Denaby, was at the wedding in question on the fateful day, there were a lot of people, some being drunk and some sober, a disturbance arose in the course of the afternoon. There was “A bit of a row.”

Wm. Pearson knocked him helpless for some not very obvious reason. They then got into the yard, and, don’t forget they did give me it,” he added. He escaped, only to be met by Johnson, who wanted to fight. He had replied that he had had quite enough. On returning to the house found his wife having her head bathed by the neighbours, and continually crying “Oh dear, oh dear, Bill’s done,” witness had said “they don’t call him Bill,”

Replying to Mr Yarborough, as to his state, he said he was between drunkenness and sobriety. At all events he was not in fighting condition.

Mr Jardine: would you call this a drunken party or a soberr one? – Well, it was betwixt.

Mr Yarborough: Just an ordinary Denaby wedding party. (Laughter)

Mr Jardines: Your wife had been having a bit of dancing with Pearson? – Well, they had a bit of an Irish jig. (Laughter)

She had a bit of fun with Pearson? – Well, yes, they have a bit of fun sometimes at a wedding.

You know what it means to be jealous? – Yes. I suggest that you got angry with Pearson? And thought he was having to good a time with your wife? – Oh, no.

At any rate, there was a disturbance? – Yes, they were knocking me about.

I suggest to you that in the general scrimmage your wife was knocked about? I not – I couldn’t tell you. I know she came home knocked about.

Didn’t you say something to the prisoner about challenge him to come down and fight? – Nothing of the kind.

I suggest to you that you caused those injuries to your wife with the poker because you were annoyed with what she did at the wedding? No, I have never been angry with her since I married her.

Did you ever say to your wife that you would give her some more before the night was out for bringing you into a mess like that? – No, sir.

Not in the presence of Mrs Webster? – No, sir.

The Commissioner: When you went into the house and found your wife having her head bathed, what was it she said? – She said “Bill.” I said “what Bill.” She says “Bill Johnson.” I says “they don’t call him Bill” later, witness described his wife condition as such that he could faintly hear the words .” Bill – Johnson.”

Mr Jardine: did not Mr Baddeley ask you at Doncaster whether your wife said anything when she came round foot? – Yes. What did you say? – I said “Bill.” Are you sure that you said anything about Bill? – Yes, that’s what I did say.

It is written here, “My wife did not say anything when she came round. No one accused me of beating my wife.” Now, Mr Till, your name is William, prisoner’s name is John.

John Manley lived near the Tills, and on the eighth saw the prisoner going down the street at about 5.30, and walk up to Mrs Till, striking her, knocking her down, and kicking her on the nose, right in front of the Tills house.

The mother of the injured woman, Ann Brindley, gave evidence as to what occurred. Subsequent to the alleged second assault her daughter was bleeding from wounds on the head, and his witness and Mrs Manley bathed, and when she came round witness asked how the injuries had been caused. Mrs Till had replied “by Johnson.” Witness replied, oil, and he has not forgotten to give it you Eva?”

Mr Jardine: she never mentioned the word about “Bill,?” – No, nothing about “Bill.”

“What I have said.”

Mr Jardine: Were you in a position to hear what was said? – Witness (with dignity): what I have said I have spoken to truly. I would not wish to say a word that I could not say with a clear confidence.

Did you hear her say that her Bill had done it? – No.

The woman’s deliverer, Thomas Coates, of 30. Analyst Street, denied that he was at the wedding, but at 830 on this particular day, he was near the house when he saw the whole of the row. He saw Johnson strike Mrs Till on the mouth and nose, knocking her on the floor, and returning to her husband. There was a shout that the police were coming, and witness took the woman to her home, where he left her. Later, he saw Johnson making for Barnburgh Street, and eventually going into the house of Mrs Till. Witness watched him come out five or 10 minutes afterwards. Shortly afterwards he saw Till also come out. Mrs Till’s condition he described as that of a woman neither drunk nor sober.

The Doctor and The Policeman.

Doctor. F. G. Twigg said the woman came under his care on April 8. When he first saw her, her face was very much swollen, and there was a cut underneath the nose, which might have been caused by a blow from a man’s fist or a kick from a book. There were two wounds at the back of the head, one being deep and very dangerous. There were bruises in various parts of the body, and the woman had evidently suffered from shock and loss of blood,

Police Constable Ransom said that on 9 April he went to the lodgings of prisoner, whom he saw, and said “now, Johnson.” Johnson had replied “I know what you want; it it’s about that woman. It’s not me. I was in our house when it was done. I never put my hand on either of them.” As he proceeded to the police station, Johnson said “I went down to the house because there had been a bit of bother up there. Till and the Mrs were in, but “I never, touched them.”

When formally charged at the station, he said “if you can prove me guilty I hope I shall have to suffer for it; but I am innocent.”

This concluded the case for the prosecution.

Johnson’s Version.

Johnson went into the box, and gave his version of what happened at the wedding party. Till became jealous of Pearson, and the latter struck the former, blows being exchanged witness was watching, but took no part in the “row.” Mrs, Till. He said, shouted out “Ahr bills lost a fight, who can beat me?” Striking Mrs. Coulan as she did so. The matter ended at that. The whole party, including himself, was “half and half.” Subsequently, he challenged Mr Till to fight, but he declined. Thereupon Mrs Till came up to him and struck him three times. He put out his hand, and the woman “tippled” down. At 7 o’clock that night to want to fight him, but this time he declined. The next day the police constable came to the house.

Cross-examined, witness said that Mrs Coulan knocked Mrs Till down, and she had been carried away by a man named Coates. He adhered to his statement that jealousy was the cause of the quarrel between Till and Pearson.

Both the Tills arrived in the morning at about 10 o’clock, and not at 12 – 15 as they had stated.

Further, he admitted that he struck Mr Till, but denied striking Mrs Till at all. It was untrue that he had knocked her down. Manley statement that he had entered the house of the Tills was untrue. For the matter of that the statements of the Tills were untrue.

Mr Yarborough: Why should they wish to come here and tell untruths? – All the blame is being put on me to clear her husband.

How do you know that? – I have got witnesses to prove it.

Did you say to the police “I was never in the house when it was done?” – Yes.

That was a lie wasn’t it? – That was after tea between five and six.

How do you know? – I am going upon the evidence of my witnesses.

Did you tell the constable that you never laid hands on either of them? – Yes, sir

Well, you did, didn’t you? – Yes, but that was down there at the wedding.

Have you seen Mr and Mrs Till before? – Yes sir. I have known them a long time. Have you known him strike her before? – No, sir.

Have you ever known any quarrelling between them? – No, sir.

Wm. Webster, a neighbour, said he heard prisoner challenge Till to fight in Barnbrough Street, at about 3.15 on the afternoon of the eighth, neither the Tills no prisoner could stand, they were so drunk, and Mrs Till fell in the gutter. Sometime afterwards there was a sound of screaming and the little boy ran out of the house, crying that his father had hit his mother on the head. Till was chasing the boy threatening to hit him.

The mother of the last witness, Susanna Webster, said she was stood at her door, at about 5.20, when the boy came across, and said his father had hit his mother on the head with the poker. Going into the house of Till she saw the woman lying in a corner. The entrance was greeted with the cry, “Ahr bills done. Ahr bills done it, Susanna,” Mrs Till’s mother said it “serves her right,” and Till said “I shall give her some more before tonight’s out, bringing me into the mess she has got me into,

Cross-examined, Mrs Webster said she was not a friend of the Tills.

Mr Yarborough; what you mean by that? – I am not a friend of anybody round there.

Why? – They are not of my class. (Laughter)

later she stated that Mrs Till was drunk, and Mr Yarborough asked her how she knew that? – I only know what I was told. I saw her coming down the road at 4 o’clock drunk.

Do you know anything about the case except what you have been told? – I know her son came out of the house.

Do you know that Mrs Brindley says Mrs Till had to be carried in? – Mrs Brindley tells false.

Do you know Mrs Brinley says Mrs Till was unconscious for 10 minutes? – She tells false.

Did you know at 4 o’clock, when you saw her coming down the street, that she had been severely injured? – Only two black eyes. (Laughter.)

How do you know? – Witness (sharply): because I saw them. (Laughter)

Mrs Margaret Moran having also given evidence, the jury settled down to listen to a harangue from councils and commissioners, which lasted three quarters of an hour, making the total length of hearing some 4 ½ hours.

Mr Jardine, addressing the jury. Said he thought it was not necessary to prove to their satisfaction that this assault had been committed by the husband and the wife. All he had to do was to raise a doubt in their minds. “You see, gentlemen,” he said, “this story begins with a wedding, which is really a drunken ordy. It is true that the cause of the trouble seems very slight and very trifling, but Mrs Till had been dancing with someone or other. Well, they knew what a jealous man was.

Till and Pearson began a row. There was a regular scuffle, in the course of which that lady (Mrs Till) was injured.” “But,” he said. “Nothing occurred at that wedding to justify you 12 men of the jury in convicting this man of a serious crime.” The woman was frightfully injured on that afternoon, and there was no doubt that after the wedding prisoner did go down to the street in which the Tills live. Now, he would suggest that the witnesses for the prosecution who saw the scuffle at the wedding party, heard subsequently that Mrs Till had been seriously injured, and would immediately put two and two together, ascribing the deed to Johnson. What happened inside the house of Till after the prisoner had gone away they did not know, he suggested that there was only two people who knew, and neither person had told the truth. But they did know that at the end of half an hour shrieks were heard issuing from the house, and the little boy ran out crying something. Of course, they would know that the little boy Tommy, who had been there that day, was to a very large extent under the influence of his parents, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he (Mr Jardine) had been able to extract from him that modicum of truth that his mother had had a right lot of drink. Up till then she had been regarded as a sober woman. He did not think they would have any doubt as to whether she was drunk.

He spoke of the contradictory evidences as to what had really been said by Mrs Till on recovering consciousness. The evidence of the husband was that “Bill Johnson had done it.” That evidence was not given before the magistrates, not a word was said about Bill Johnson. It was significant circumstance that since the case had been before the magistrate “Bill” had been introduced. Because it was known that the defence was that the husband was the culprit. The respectable woman out of mere charity had gone into the house, and that day came before them to say that the woman had said “Ahr Bill’s done it.” It was not necessary for him to prove the husband as the guilty person: what these ladies said was that Johnson was not. He had gone half an hour ago. It was as complete an alibi as anything could be. “I suggest to you on these facts that this is a clear case for acquittal” he concluded.

Mr Yarborough said the only question for beside them to decide was which of those sets of witnesses they were going to believe, the five or six witnesses for the prosecution, who had testified to the facts, or the three whose testimony amounted to this, that they heard the woman screaming about, another man, when, according to them, she was absolutely drunk, or as the prosecution said, when she was suffering from injuries to the head. He spoke of the absolutely disinterested motives of his witnesses. He also spoke of all the alleged drunken tradition of the prisoner who had gone into the street wanting to fight anybody. Till, however, was a peaceful man; he was not going to fight. He asked them if there was any reason for disbelieving Mrs Till statement, or for believing the suggestion that husband and wife had been having a quarrel that day. It was ridiculous, and he asked them to consider the evidence carefully, when they would come to the conclusion. That there could be only one decision, that Johnson was guilty of the assault.

A Grave and Intricate Case.

Commissioner Kemp, summing up, said there could be no doubt that the case was one of considerable gravity, nor was it easy to unravel. He would assist them as far as he could. The man was charged on three counts, but substantially, the charge was one of wounding with intent to do grevious bodily harm. The question of intent was all important. The prisoner was to a great extent. Under the influence of drink, and although it was perfectly true that under some circumstances, drunkenness was no excuse for crime, but when the question was one of intent. Then they were entitled to take into consideration the condition of the man at the time. If they came to the conclusion that that man, assuming he committed the assault, was in such a state that he could not harbour any intention of doing real harm. Then they would be justified in saying that he was not guilty of the offence of intent. But still was guilty of the lesser though the still great crime of unlawful wounding. If they were not satisfied that the prosecution had made out a case, then they might say that the man was not guilty of wounding at all.

The case was certainly an extraordinary character.

Here was a young man of 22 years, who had been before the magistrates from time to time on various charges of drunkenness. Human nature was human nature and they knew as well as he did that a man in drink was extraordinarily quarrelsome. In his drunken anger he did that with which he was charge. But the defence was that he never laid a finger on the Tills. But that the injuries to the wife were caused by the husband. That was very extraordinary, for the couple had, apparently enjoyed 14 years of happy married life, and the prisoner Johnson admitted that he knew of no quarrel between them. The case divided itself into three occasions on which assaults were alleged the house of Conlans, and outside and inside the house of Till. He went into the three assaults in detail. As to what had been said by the woman after she had recovered consciousness, the jury would hardly attach the same importance to a statement under those conditions as under others.

The jury found the prisoner guilty of unlawfully wounding, without intent and the following morning sentence of five months hard labour was passed.