The Conisboro’ Saw Mills Fire – Hearing of the Arson Charge – Harold Booth Committed For Trial.

November 1908

Mexborough and Swinton Times November 21 1908

The Conisboro’ Saw Mills Fire.
Hearing of the Arson Charge.
Harold Booth Committed For Trial.
Was Prisoner Under The Influence Of Drink?

In connection with the disastrous fire at the Don Saw Mills at Conisborough on November 7, which was full reported in our last issue, Harold Booth, described as an “accountant, of no fixed abode,” made his second appearance before the Doncaster West Riding Magistrates on Monday. He previously had been remanded on a charge of wilfully setting fire to the premises, the property of his father.

Prisoner is a fairly tall, dark man, of the most respectable appearance. The stumpy hairs covering the lower part of his face reminded one that he had been in prison for the past week. He wore a black tie, presumably in token of his bereavement by the recent death of his mother. He appeared to take very little interest in the proceedings. He was not legally represented, and he did not put a single question to any of the witnesses.

The Brothers Evidence

Thomas Booth said he acted as manager for his father, Thomas Booth, who carried on business as a timber merchant and brushwood turner at the sawmills at Conisborough. He resided at Woodland View, Burcroft, Conisborough, near the mill. On Saturday, November 7 at 4 p.m. he locked up the mill leaving all secure. Mill was worked by water power, so that there were no fires of any sort on the place. The sawmill’s brick building consists of two workshops. The prisoner, Harold Booth, was witness’s brother and had nothing at all to do with the business.

A fire broke out at the mill on Saturday night. Witness saw it at 10:45, just after it had broken out. He at once went to the sawmill, which was blazing from the roof. It was impossible to get inside the building, and he was unable to see where the fire had originated. The walls were all right, and this led him to the conclusion that the fire originated in the interior of the building. The Conisboro’ Fire Brigade arrived on the scene, and worked at the fire until about three o’clock on the following morning, by which  time it was extinguished. The damage done by the fire was fully £1,000. He saw his brother for a few minutes that evening, at about eight. o’-clock, but had no conversation with him. Prisoner had been residing with his father until about three weeks ago. One night Harold Booth came in the worse for drink, and his father told him that he could not do with him at all if he did not keep sober. Since then prisoner had not, to witness’s knowledge, spent a night at his father’s house. Witness did not know where he had been living in the meantime but he had seen him in the district occasionally. Mr Booth, senr., lived just near the mill, and was 78 years old. He was unable to leave his house, and was under the doctor’s care. It was possible for anyone to enter the mill after it had been locked up,      but it would, be a difficult thing to do.   It could be done by climbing round some railings or under a gate, and a person would then have access to the whole of the mill. .When he saw his brother at, eight o’clock on the evening of the fire the latter appeared to be sober.

Discovery of the Fire.   

Enos Dutchman said he was a grinder residing at Conisboro’. He lived near the saw mills,               and at 10-40 p.m. on the Saturday he heard a strange crackling sound. He, then saw that the Don. Saw Mills were on fire. When he first saw the fire he saw that it was inside that was on fire. He went to the owner’s house and gave and alarm of fire. He did not see anything of the prisoner at the time.

Thomas Percy Booth said he was a commercial traveller residing at ‘Woodlands View, ‘Conisboro . Prisoner was his uncle, and witness saw him at about five minutes past ten on the evening of Saturday, November 7th. The owner of the mill, Mr. Thomas Booth, sen., was witnesses grandfather. When ‘witness saw Harold Booth the latter was standing at his grandfather’s gate, which would only be a little way from the mill. They merely said “Good-night- to each other. It was dark at the, time and witness could not say whether or not prisoner was under the influence of drink at the time.

Prisoner’s Movements Detailed.

Edith Beales, wife of Ernest William Beales, said she lived near the Saw Mills. At 10-25 p.m. on Nov. 7th she was going home, and at, that time she saw prisoner against the coal place on Burcroft Hill, belonging to Mr. Maurice Booth, Harold’s brother. This would not be far from the Don Saw Mills. She did not speak to prisoner. The latter had his hand on the door of the coal place as if he was going in. He appeared to be much the worse for drink, as he was swaying backwards and forwards. Witness saw prisoner leave the coal place, and proceed down Burcroft Hill. On reaching home she was not long before she went out again to take her husband’s supper to the Gas Works,, where he was employed. When she got to the Gas House prisoner was passing out of the yard as witness was going in.

When she was returning home she again saw prisoner, who was turning round a corner which could lead him to nowhere but the saw mills. It was just 11-35 ‘p.m. when she reached home. She seemed to have been in the house between five and ten minutes when she saw that the Don Saw Mills were on fire. They had been all right when she went indoors. She had a good view of the saw mills from her house. She ran to the door, and saw that the fire then had a good hold. When she got outside the fire appeared to be located in the first turning shop, and the flames were coming through the roof. At about a quarter-past 11 she saw prisoner standing near Mr Turner’s flour mill, which was situated near the sawmills. He was standing against the wall watching the fire. She noticed some sludge and saw dust on his  clothes.

The Box of Matches

Frank senior said he was a glass hand, residing at Conisbrough. On the night of November 7 they heard that there was a fire at the Don Mills, and arrived on the spot at about 10:50. He assisted in getting some of the timber out of the mills. It was a very big blaze. He afterwards searched the premises, along with others, and about 12:10 he saw prisoner going down the drive leading from the road to his father’s house. He would then be about 20 yards from the mill. It was a moonlight night, and witness noticed that prisoner had a pipe in one hand and a box of matches in the other, “as if you are going to have a smoke.” Witness, who know prisoner well, asked him when he was going. He replied, “I’m going down to the fire. It seems to have got a pretty good hold.”

Prisoner then went in the direction of the fire, and that was the last witness saw of him. Witness had previously seen prisoner in the Castle Inn at about 8:40 that evening. He then appeared to be sober.

The Confession

Johnson He said he was a superintendent of the West Riding Constabulary, station at Doncaster, and Conisbrough was in his district. On Sunday, November 8 at about 2:30 p.m. prisoner called at his house, which adjoined the Police Station, and said he wanted to have a private conversation with him. Witness sent him round to the office, and saw him there in the presence of P.s. Haywood.

Prisoner was sober, but appeared to have been drinking. He told witness that he had set fire to the Don Saw Mills at Conisbrough the previous night. Witness told him that if he had anything to say he should take it down in writing, and he did so. Prisoner made a voluntary statement, which afterwards was read over to him and signed by him. Police Sergeant Hayward and win a signed the statement after prisoner and done so. Witness added in the statement as evidence. Prisoner was locked up and afterwards charged.

Wanted Something to Eat

P.s. Heywood, stationed at Doncaster, said he was on duty in the Police Office on November 8. Prisoner called at about 2 o’clock and asked to see Superintendent Hicks. Witness asked him what his business was and prisoner said he wanted something to eat. Witness told him he had come to the wrong place, and prisoner went out, but returned in a few minutes. He asked witness if he could find him something to eat, and witness said he could not. Prisoner went out and returned again, this being the occasion of the interview describe as last witness. He heard prisoner make a voluntary statement to the effect that he had set the colours are Saw Mills on fire. Prisoner then made a statement, which was taken down in writing, and signed by all three of them.

Prisoner was not asked a single question, and the statement was entirely voluntary from beginning to end. On Monday morning witness cautioned prisoner, charging with “unlawfully and maliciously setting fire to the Don Saw Mills at Conisbrough, at about 10:30 PM on Saturday the seventh November, causing damage to the amount of £1000, the property of his father Thomas Booth.” Prisoner said “That is correct.”

The Reply to the Charge.

Prisoner was then charged and cautioned that any statement he might make would be taken down in writing and used as evidence against him on his trial. He then made the following statement: All I desire to say is that the evidence that has been given is very truthful. The statement that I gave to the Superintendent, and which you have in writing covers my defence. The only thing I ask is that. you shall consider the condition my mind was in on the night of the 7th inst. In giving, judgment, I would ask your worships to consider my ordinary habits and conditions of life until just recently.

The Chairman: Do you call any witnesses? Prisoner: No, your ‘worship

The Chairman: Harold Booth, we cannot deal with this case to-day, and it is our duty to commit you to take your trial at the next Leeds Assizes.

Prisoner: When will that be?

The Chairman: In March.

Prisoner: Shall I be in the third division for three months?

The Clerk: He will not have to do any labour.

The Chairman: Harold Booth, the Bench are disposed to grant you ,bail, yourself in £50 and two sureties of £20, or one surety of £40.

Prisoner; I do not ask for bail. There is one thing I should like to ask. Am I entitled to legal assistance under the Poor Prisoners Defence Act of 1903?

The Clerk: You have not disclosed any defence at all, so that the magistrates have no power to deal with that matter

Prisoner then turned, gave a nod of recognition to someone at. The back of the Court, and left the dock. The hearing of the case occupied about an hour and a half.


After the hearing our representative requested that he should have an opportunity of seeing the statement made by the prisoner, which had been handed in as evidence by Superintendent Hicks but not read out in Court. He was informed that the matter had been mentioned to the Bench, who had come to the conclusion that the contents of the statement should not be disclosed to the Press, and given their Clerk instructions accordingly. Our reporter was, however, informed that the statement was a sensational one.